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Gender Festival in Tanzania Celebrates Feminist Struggles and Plans for More

Marc Wegerif, Economic Justice Campaign Manager attended this year’s festival and files the following story.

The morning started before the sun was hot, with music, songs and dancing in a space surrounded by tents steadily filling up. More than a thousand people, mostly grassroots women, gathered to hear about the history of struggles for women’s land rights that the Tanzania Gender Networking Programme (TGNP – http://www.tgnp.org/) have led over the last 20 years. This was the beginning of the four day (3-6 Sept) Gender Festival organised biannually as a space for women from all walks of life, in particular those in poverty, to engage in discussions and mobilisation for the improvement of women’s rights, voice and leadership.

The theme for the festival this year was 20 years of transformative feminist struggles: Where are we? What next? In the opening session founders of TGNP shared some of their reflections.

Imeuzwa kwa wawekezaji (Sold to Investors), members of the people's parliament at the Gender Festival raise concerns about women losing land to investors and demand that women's land rights get specific protection in the New Constitution of Tanzania

“From the beginning we recognized the need to challenge patriarchy and neo-liberalism,” said Marjorie Mbilini. “The aim of transformative feminist struggles is to dismantle institutions that oppress women.”

The current Chairperson of TGNP Mary Rusimbi examined the structural factors that continue to oppress women, echoing the spirit of the festival: “The political, social and policy context today perpetuates inequality and oppression of women. Women should not beg for equality, we should raise up our voices!”

Oxfam supported over 70 women to attend from across Tanzania and Oxfam programmes. These included partner organisation representatives, ‘change makers’ working on the Tunaweza (We Can) Campaign (http://www.tunaweza.or.tz and http://tanzania.wecanglobal.org/about-us/history), women mobilising to fight against land grabs and other land rights violations, Female Food Hero finalists (http://www.oxfamblogs.org/eastafrica/?p=5155 and http://www.oxfamblogs.org/eastafrica/?p=5341) and pastoralist community representatives. Attending the festival provided an opportunity to meet with others working on similar issues, participate in workshops on different issues of importance for women’s rights and to be inspired to further action. Oxfam also supported women leaders working on land and property rights issues in Uganda and Kenya to join the festival. One of the discussions that emerged was on how women can mobilise more strongly at a regional and pan African level, recognising that the struggle for gender justice is global.

During the festival Oxfam, with partner organisations, ran workshops on campaigning to end violence against women, and on women’s land and natural resource rights.

More than 100 people filled a room during a Tunaweza-led workshop on ending violence against women to watch role plays, debate different forms of violence, and listen to testimonies from change makers on how they are ending violence in their lives. Throughout the festival new change makers were also being signed up to join the campaign, committing to end violence in their lives and influence others around them to do the same.

The specific challenges women face when it comes to land rights was the focus of a two-day workshop led by Oxfam’s GROW campaigners (http://www.oxfam.org/en/grow/what-is-grow) . Women are the main producers of food (60-80% of food in Africa produced by women according to FAO) and the main supporters of their families, but despite this, often men don’t want to give up the power they get from the control of land. And all too frequently, when land is taken away by men, investors, or through inheritance, women lose everything.

Ardhi Yetu! Uhai Wetu! (Our Land! Our Lives!) became the defining slogan. People who had lost land gave their testimonies and outlined the steps they were taking to seek justice. While many of the stories were sad, the women were optimistic about the future and there was a common drive to fight against injustice and keep on pushing for improved rights for women.

The workshop also examined the impact of land grabs on women in the international context (http://policy-practice.oxfam.org.uk/blog/2013/04/promises-power-poverty-land-deals), looking at what can be done at an international level to improve women’s land rights and what the activists gathered at the festival could do to push for these changes to happen. They committed to the following: Resisting the sale of their communities’ land, pushing to be involved in all decision making on land issues, and to advocating – from the local to pan African level – to improve the situation of African women’s land rights. Participants also called for the new Tanzanian Constitution to include a land clause, ensuring it gives particular attention to women’s rights and prevents the sale of land to investors.

Women Fund Tanzania (http://www.wft.or.tz/) was also launched at the festival. The initiative aims to bring women together at the grassroots level to assert their rights and improve their own lives. “As Oxfam, we have seen that when women are strong, families, communities and nations are strong. Women must have power over their lives and their bodies,” said Oxfam Gender Justice Advisor Teresa Yates the launch.

On the final day.,the issues determined to be most important to the majority of women at the event i were presented at a People’s Parliament, a transparent and inclusive debate. These messages were shared through social media and mainstream media gaining wide public exposure.

There is no doubt that TGNP’s Gender Festivals and its other activities have contributed to important shifts in thinking and policy as it relates to women’s rights and gender equity in Tanzania. Equally all participants at the festival were clear that there is a lot more to be done, not least ensuring clear commitments to creating gender equity in the new Constitution. This year’s festival has made another important contribution to increasing the level of awareness and commitment of women and their allies to continue women’s rights struggles.

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Written by Ngele Ali

Ngele Ali

Ngele is the regional information and comms officer for the Horn, East and Central Africa, based in Nairobi. Follow her on twitter @ngeleali

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