Let A Thousand Flowers Blossom

Volume 15, Issue 1  | 
Published 10/07/2018

As a response to the wind of change that was blowing  in the 80’s heralding  a new era  for Tanzanian women, TAMWA was born to the delight of many women and men journalists, who were keen to see bold and articulate women stand up for the marginalized in our society at the right time, with the right  initiatives.

Inspired by the Women’s year in 1975, and the Women’s decade in 1985, twelve women from both print and electronic media outlets in Tanzania, opened a new chapter in the media landscape. Not only were we armed with the most powerful tools and drivers of change, we had a dream, an agenda well crafted, a shared vision of where we wanted to go, and well thought out strategies with which to accomplish our dream.

When we identified an issue that needed action, we held regular meetings, mostly on Fridays to strategise, to plan, to share, to discuss and agree on the type of action to take. TAMWA uses media as a tool for mobilization and advocacy. Using BANG STYLE, we strategically mobilized media outlets, both print and electronic. We set out using the scientific approach of course by doing research, thereafter, we discussed the angle we needed to take. Then, each reporter was free to write the story mindful of their different house styles. When the stories were done, they were disseminated at the same time with a lot of impact.  Imagine a story getting massive coverage from about five to eight media outlets for more than five days! It was fantastic!

This type of work gave us a lot of mileage, and an edge above all other media associations. Actually, it gave us a lot of visibility and credit, to the extent that within a short time even the government and society at large, acknowledged the work we were doing.

Agriculture is Tanzania’s economic hub. Ask anybody and they will tell you it is women who do the bulk of work in both food and cash crops using a hand hoe. Besides, they are the nurturers of families, they tend after the sick and old people, they hew firewood after trekking miles and miles, they fetch water, wash clothes, clean the house, prepare food, all the household drudgeries that use a lot of energy, are done by these women, although when it comes to eating habits they are left with the less nutritious foods even if they are pregnant or lactating.

As if this is not enough, they are the ones who bear the brunt of being harassed everywhere. In schools, at home, in the streets, at work, you name it. After giving it a lot of thought, and knowing that we wield a lot of power as women but also as women journalists, we decided to mobilize other women in their various organizations such as teachers, doctors, police officers, lawyers and councillors to join us in a meeting with parliamentarians to discuss how they can help us make life easier for women, especially in the rural areas.

So we argued with Lawmakers, that TAMWA believes they were voted in those positions of representation by women, who are the main voters anyway.  If what we are constantly told that agriculture is the backbone of our country’s economy, we do not understand how these women who are the key players, are the very ones whose rights are abused with impunity right from childhood to old age.

Our case was understood by some, but misunderstood by others more so, because the national radio was carrying a live broadcast of the event, from beginning to end.   Mind you, we are talking about the 80’s when Tanzania was very much a sleeping giant in terms of gender awareness and gender equity.  What are these women up to? Where do they get the guts to speak with so much authority, who is behind them?  These are some of the questions which were being asked with anxiety   especially from men.  In as far as we were concerned we had made our point loud and clear and the general public had become aware through that live broadcast.

The good news is, after only six months’ of lobbying the lawmakers, TAMWA and partners were awarded a gift: SOSPA, acronym for ‘Sexual Offences Special Provision Act’.  We ourselves did not believe this could happen so fast.   Well-wishers sent accolades from far and wide. We were asked, how did you do it? We quickly did a review and found out that it was resilience, commitment, hard work and collaboration that did it. The timing was perfect, in the sense that, this was the re-awakening period, some twenty-six years after independence. Most of us were young, full of energy ready to build the nation which we were constantly told was nascent. So coming from colonialism we needed to liberate our minds first and realize our capabilities and potential before helping others liberate themselves through the media.

When  the UN proclaimed Women’s Year in 1975, women rejoiced, while men  dismissed the initiative as a hoax and that it was bound to fail, given that no woman can stand alone without a man as a husband, brother, father or uncle.  In the patriarchal social system, this notion is difficult to question due to the fact that men have enjoyed the privilege  of  having the final say in everything.

It was not an easy task then, given that, those women who went before us, like Bibi Titi Mohamed, Lucy Lameck, Tatu Nuru and many others had paved the way for women’s freedom -  not only to do what they wanted, but to have the ability to do what we wanted, when we wanted  within societal rules and regulations. It is this kind of freedom that inspired us to set up a vibrant organization by the name of TAMWA which on 17 November 2017, celebrated 30 years of excellent service to the nation.  What exactly have we done?

As a media organisation, we were very strategic in selecting what we were good at. We scanned the environment and discovered we had many women who were illiterate. This meant they were engulfed with the three development diseases, namely: Ignorance, illnesses, and poverty.

We set the pace for other NGO’s to follow suit. They were impressed by the unity we forged which was translated into strength; we worked on projects which made us relevant thus earning the trust of both the Government of the day, and ordinary Tanzanians.  We dealt with drug use and abuse, the negative portrayal of women in the media, Khanga as a medium of communication, wife battery and GBV in general, women in politics etc.

That is not to say it was all smooth sailing, far from it. We were young women, and at times men journalists were very suspicious of what we were doing. We crafted a  good constitution which vividly stipulated our roles in different portfolios, clearly spelt out our vision and mission, our goals, our values and what TAMWA stands for. This made it easy to navigate our journey, for even when we had our misunderstandings, we had an elaborate conflict resolution mechanism to which all of us had to adhere.

Today TAMWA has an office of its own, a seventeen member secretariat team which implements projects, seven Board members three of whom are not in the journalism field who set policies, and provide oversight in areas of finance, management and fundraising.  We recently launched online TV which is airing a program called, SAUTI YA SITI. SAUTI YA SITI is the name of TAMWA’s women magazine borrowing a name from a renowned singer from Zanzibar, SITI BINTI SAAD. We have just produced a book depicting our 30 years’ journey; and from Michigan University, TAMWA was offered a rare opportunity to digitize its publications since 1987.

It is my ardent belief that talents, skills, dedication, commitment and zeal will continue to give voice to women. As for women journalists, media is a very powerful tool for lobbying and advocacy. We are seeing a new trend unfolding before our very eyes: that of African leaders not honouring commitments which they made to make sure women feature in positions of power. More women have gone to school, meaning they can now vie for leadership positions alongside their male counterparts. It is upon us in the media, men and women, to make sure they get equal coverage once they vie for these positions. Liberia which has just concluded elections has a cabinet full of men, President Kenyatta in Kenya has done the same. How do we move forward in leadership while leaving women behind? This is a trend that we need to be wary about, as it gives room for gender inequality in leadership.

To sum up, I want to borrow a leaf from MICHELLE OBAMA’s wisdom which says: No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half of its citizens. We have made Tanzanians realize this, and all that is needed now is to take action so that women are given the freedom to choose from an informed point of view.

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