Tanzania: New constitution promises gains for women

Tanzania: New constitution promises gains for women

Date: March 30, 2015
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There is great expectation that Tanzania’s ongoing constitution review process will open up a new era in gender relations and improve the status of women. Women’s rights, according a report on public views on the constitution released by the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC), are the fifth largest human rights category of concern to citizens.

The preamble of the Draft Constitution being debated include broad statements of intent to uphold a constitutional order that does not discriminate on the basis of gender or other difference.

In the most recent Draft Constitution released in December 2013 the main provision championing women’s rights is Article 47 which has two sub-articles. Sub article one guarantees women respect of their dignity; freedom from oppression; equal pay for equal work; protection from discriminatory laws and harmful traditions; labour protection for reproductive function; and access to health. The second sub article commits to creating the environment necessary to realise the rights outlined in the article.

Women’s organisations such the Wanawake na Katiba (Women and the Constitution) Coalition-an alliance of over 50 women’s rights organisations across Tanzania-have taken an active lead in mobilising to secure women’s interests in the new Constitution.

The Coalition’s Chair, Professor Ruth Meena, stresses that the objective is to ensure that all gains made in the Draft Constitution remain in the final product. The Coalition has outlined 12 key demands, one of which is that Article 113 (3) of the Draft Constitution-which provides for 50/50 representation of women in parliamentary elections-goes further to ensure zebra proportional representation (alternation of male and female candidates’ election or appointment procedures).

The call for parity in decision-making becomes even more important considering the lack of women in the current CA itself. With an estimated membership of 629, women have only about 38% of the seats. Likewise, none of the 21 registered political parties have a woman in their top leadership positions, and mostly the party heads-predominantly men-were appointed. In the elections for the Interim Chair of the CA, only one out of four candidates was female. During the elections for the deputy CA Chair, only two candidates were women. The pattern is also reflected at the CA Committee level. Women chair only four out of fourteen Committees, while there are 10 female vice chairs, suggesting that it is easier to accept women as deputies but not at the helm.

Article 66 (1)(b) of the 1977 Constitution established the Special Seat system which provides for a 30% quota for women. Those opposed to it argue that they are incompatible with a competitive political system. In Tanzania, Special Seats have been dominated by a few well-connected individual women who are seen to champion partisan interests more than women’s interests.

Women who have benefitted from Special Seats fault the system for denying them a political base. “The fact that Special Seats councillors don’t have a specific constituency leaves them in a limbo without clout in their own parties; or in the structures they are appointed to”, explains Gulzar Abu Sabr, a former Special Seats councillor.

On the other hand, speaking at the commemoration of International Women’s Day, Tanzania’s Deputy Minister of Community Development, Gender and Children, Pindi Chana, claimed that abolishing Special Seats for women is tantamount to burying the 50/50 policy, because Tanzania has not reached a stage to do away with special measures for women.

Diverging perspectives about what women’s struggles should focus on are clear in the contributions made by the few female members in the CA. The ideological divide, indicates that real change may be a long way off.

“Some female members of the CA are calling for the new [Constitution] to allow customary and religious law to govern personal law issues”, exclaims a CA female member in dismay and frustration over the complicity of key female figures in women’s subordination.

Articles 8 and 9 of the draft Constitution, read together with the guarantees provided by Article 47, represent key progress for the advancement of women’s rights in Tanzania. Their affirmation of the principle of constitutional supremacy strengthens the protections for women’s rights by voiding ‘any tradition [and] custom’ that is inconsistent with the Constitution’s provisions. Existing Tanzanian customs, traditions or religious practices can hardly be described as being consistent with the content of Article 47. So, for some women to seek to maintain the status quo under the guise of cultural or religious relativism is to undermine the value of the supremacy of women’s rights clauses.

“We had great expectation that the more enlightened among us would provide leadership in our quest for gender justice. But the opposite is true. Some of them are the main gatekeepers of the status quo”, she adds.

Source: adapted article written by Salma Maoulidi, originally published on “Constitution Net”, Tanzania’s Draft Constitution: Opening spaces for a gender revolution?


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