Women claim their space in Tanzania’s elections

A dozen of the women candidates trained by UN Women and partners speak about the challenges they’ve faced in the lead-up to this weekend’s presidential, parliamentary and local elections and how the training has motivated them.

Date: 23 October 2015

30 October update: As results from polling stations across Tanzania continue to be announced, women are claiming their space beyond ‘special seats’, with women candidates defeating men in more than eight parliamentary constituencies so far. Mickness Mahera is one of the women who made it through, winning a seat for the Busega District Council.
Infographic: Women and the 2015 Elections in Tanzania. Credit: UN Women, based on figures provided by NEC (National Election Commission) and ZEC (Zanzibar Election Commission).

It is election week in the United Republic of Tanzania, and more than 12,000 candidates from Mainland Tanzania and Zanzibar—including 1,039 women—are running on 25 October for the Parliament and the Zanzibar House of Representatives, local District Council and the Presidency.

Tanzanian law provides for “special seats,” with 30 per cent reserved for women appointed by political parties, based on proportional representation. However, now more than 1,000 women are claiming their space, contesting in their own right through their constituencies.

UN Women Tanzania, in partnership with the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC), the Tanzania Media Women’s Association (TAMWA), the Tanzania Gender Networking Programme (TGNP) and the Tanzania Women Cross-Party Platform (TWCP), trained 1,234 women, youth and persons living with disabilities, who were aspirants for the upcoming elections. Participants increased their public speaking, leadership and campaigning skills, and were empowered to go through the political party nomination process.

Once nominated, 658 candidates received training across all regions of Tanzania, to tweak their public speaking and campaign skills, and explore gender equality issues and barriers to women’s participation. The trainings are part of UN Women Tanzania’s programme on women’s leadership and political participation called Wanawake Wanaweza (Women Can), supported by the Embassy of Finland and USAID.

UN Women poster in Swahili that is part of a campaign for peaceful and violence-free elections in Tanzania. It reads: “It is everybody’s right to choose the candidate of their choice.” Husband: “My wife, keep your voter card in a safe place, so that you use it to choose Mr. Tabasamu to become our leader.” Wife: “It is my constitutional right to vote for the leader of my choice.” Son: “Mom is right, Dad.”
UN Women poster in Swahili that is part of a campaign for peaceful and violence-free elections in Tanzania. It reads: “It is everybody’s right to choose the candidate of their choice.” Husband: “My wife, keep your voter card in a safe place, so that you use it to choose Mr. Tabasamu to become our leader.” Wife: “It is my constitutional right to vote for the leader of my choice.” Son: “Mom is right, Dad.”

The project is implemented in coordination with the multi-donor election cycle support project, the Democratic Empowerment Project (DEP), where UN Women works in partnership with UNDP and UNESCO. The project works with a wide range of government, media, faith-based and community leaders, as well as grass-roots and civil society organizations, political party leadership and parliamentary women’s caucuses.

The project promotes women’s rights and gender equality in political participation through work on the Constitution as well as electoral and political participation laws and policies. It seeks to enhance participation in political party structures and electoral processes by identifying and training aspirants and candidates, while at the same time addressing and monitoring issues of discrimination and violence against women, youth and persons living with disabilities. The Office of the Registrar of Political Parties also works with parties on codes of conduct and gender-sensitive nomination procedures. All project partners have been involved in the campaign for peaceful, fair and violence-free elections. Radio and TV spots to promote women’s political participation have been produced along with posters and stickers.

However many of the more than 1,000 women standing for election (roughly 8.5 per cent of all candidates) are successful, their numbers will only add to the women who will enter leadership roles through the special seats, which parties will fill after the elections.

Women ready to lead

Some of the women candidates discuss their motivation to run for public office, the challenges they face in campaigning, and how the UN Women trainings have empowered them.


Mickness Mahera, running for the Busega District Council

Mickness Mahera, running for the Busega District Council, Tanzania. Photo: UN Women/Stephanie Raison.
Photo: UN Women/Stephanie Raison.

“It was my first time to contest and I won! I can’t wait to get my certificate next week and then to start my work as a councillor,” Ms. Mahera said, on 30 October. “The UN Women training really helped me in my campaign because I was able to tell people about human rights and women’s rights. They understood the concepts after I explained them. I welcome everyone to Simiyu [Region] to celebrate.”

Prior to the vote, she shared: “I have learned to be confident. I have also learned about the rights of women and youth in political participation. I am going to use that knowledge to sensitize my community on the rights of women to participate in political processes, and will make sure that, as women, we get the opportunity to go into leadership positions.”

Marietha Maige, running for the Itilima District Council

Marietha Maige, running for the Itilima District Council, Tanzania. Photo: UN Women/Stephanie Raison.
Photo: UN Women/Stephanie Raison.

“I have been fighting so that the expenditure in the district goes as planned and that resources benefit the majority and not a few. What I gained from this training is courage. I was fearful but now I am courageous. I have the right to lead! I had an incident where I was about to be run down by a motorbike during the campaign, but people came and defended me. I was also threatened with a panga [a local knife], but people wanted me to continue, so I went on with my campaigning. Through this training, I have learned to defend myself.”

Mashavu Juma Ali, running for the Zanzibar House of Representatives for the District of Mchumbuni

Mashavu Juma Ali, running for the Zanzibar House of Representatives for the District of Mchumbuni. Photo: UN Women/Béatrice Frey.
Photo: UN Women/Béatrice Frey.

”Men judge us women thinking that we cannot work. These are challenges we face, but we are here and we work with it, and we persist. So we can carry on forward and show that we, as women, can do it. If I get elected, I will bring about equal education for boys and girls, and I promise I will try to address the challenges that stop women from becoming empowered, and to give women the confidence that we as women can do it. At the beginning of my campaign, I was a little scared and hesitant to talk to the public. But since being supported and encouraged by the UN Women training in partnership with LHRC, I am now able to speak anywhere.”

Fatma Ramadhan Mussa, running for Parliament from the Wilaya ya Mjini District, Zanzibar

Fatma Ramadhan Mussa, running for Tanzanian Parliament from the Wilaya ya Mjini District, Zanzibar. Photo: UN Women/Béatrice Frey.
Photo: UN Women/Béatrice Frey.

”I am campaigning, most of all, because we women want to get out of patriarchy. As more women are coming forward, we are able to speak out on our own behalf about the challenges that are faced specifically by women. My family supports me really well. My brothers are like my managers. They are announcers at rallies, and they encourage me. As a result of the media training I received, I am able to trust myself as a woman. This is because the training focused on leadership, and particularly on women in politics. I am to trust myself because they gave me training on how to put myself in front of people while campaigning. I am really thankful that they empowered me. Before, I was afraid, but since the training, I am no longer scared to talk.”


Stella Cosmas Chetto, running for the Sengerema District Council

Stella Cosmas Chetto, running for the Sengerema District Council, Tanzania. Photo: UN Women/Stephanie Raison.
Photo: UN Women/Stephanie Raison.

”I want to be a councillor in order to advocate for community issues that are pertinent in this area. I want to see that there is true development for the people here. Women are capable, and they make good leaders. I would like men to know that women need equal opportunities to participate in life and decision-making. My husband is very supportive and he always encourages me. He goes along with me on campaign meetings. At first, he was not very supportive because he told me that, ‘politics is a big challenge, you will use a lot of money and, as a woman, you will not get enough support because politics is for men.’ But then, after I continued and he saw that I was gaining support, he changed his mind, and now he is 100-per-cent supportive because he has seen people are supporting me, that I can do it, and that I am serious about it.”

Siri Yasini Swedi, running for the Shinyanga City Council

Siri Yasini Swedi, running for the Shinyanga City Council, Tanzania. Photo: UN Women/Stephanie Raison.
Photo: UN Women/Stephanie Raison.

”I had two men that were also seeking nomination with me from my party. They used abusive language against me, but because of the aspirants training that I received, I was confident. I knew how to present myself and to stand for what I believe in. People were pleased with me, so they nominated me. But now during the campaign, the challenges are the same. I am competing against two male candidates from other political parties, and there are lots of abusive words that are being thrown at me. Still, I am managing, and I will keep managing.”


Zawadi Mrisho Iddi, 24 years old, running for the Zanzibar House of Representative from the District of Chawaka

Zawadi Mrisho Iddi, 24 years old, running for the Zanzibar House of Representative from the District of Chawaka. Photo: UN Women/Béatrice Frey.
Photo: UN Women/Béatrice Frey.

“The biggest challenge in campaigning is that people judge me as being too young. Whenever I tell people that I am running for a seat and that I would like their votes, they say, ‘you are too young.’ I tell them I might be young, but I am able to do it. If I get defeated in these elections, I will try again. Because I would have more experience and everyone would already know me by then, and know what I stand for. The training taught me that even though I’m younger than my fellow candidates, and the people judge me on that, it shouldn’t break my spirit. I should stand my ground and not let it affect my will. It taught me to carry on, and you never know, it might be my turn to win.”


Clemencia Mkwaya Meado, running for the Ukerewe District Council

Clemencia Mkwaya Meado, running for the Ukerewe District Council, Tanzania. Photo: UN Women/Stephanie Raison.
Photo: UN Women/Stephanie Raison.

“In the beginning, I faced a lot of harassment. People said that they don’t want to be led by a woman, and that a woman is not capable of being a leader. I had to fight this notion and demonstrate to them that I am capable. After winning the first time, I continued to work and demonstrate that, as a woman, I am able to address their needs and able to work as a capable leader. I started out as a special-seats ward representative in 2005. [My constituents] asked me to lead them and contest in 2010, which I did and won. When I announced to my family that I wanted to be a councillor, my husband was not supportive … but my father-in-law was. In the morning, my husband would say, ‘don’t contest,’ but then my father-in-law would say, ‘don’t listen to him; look at Mama Gertrude Mongela, who comes from this area, and see how she has led all this time! Go ahead, you will also do it.’ I took the forms, and it was a sweeping victory. I got lots of votes, way above the other two men contesting.”


Kalekwa Kigullah, running for Parliament from the District of Manispaa ya Temeke, Dar es Salaam

Kalekwa Kigullah, running for the Tanzanian Parliament from the District of Manispaa ya Temeke, Dar es Salaam. Photo: UN Women/Béatrice Frey.
Photo: UN Women/Béatrice Frey.

“I have been in politics for seven years. I ran for special seats the first time, and now I’m running a campaign for Parliament. Financial resources are the first problem. Also, people still don’t accept women in politics. We face many problems during the campaign. People abuse you, harass you; so many problems. To overcome this challenge, I try to educate them, to tell them the truth, that I’m a woman and that I have the right to be a candidate. My family is not supporting me. Some of my friends are. I don’t have other volunteers, it’s myself and my friends.”


Neema Reubeni Ngusa, running for the Ilemela District Council

Neema Reubeni Ngusa, running for the Ilemela District Council, Tanzania. Photo: UN Women/Stephanie Raison.
Photo: UN Women/Stephanie Raison.

“Due to the discriminatory practices that exist in society and the dominance of men in political leadership, people are led to believe that women are not capable of leading. But during the aspirants training, I realized that there are other women who can actually lead, and I was empowered—I can also be a leader! I started to believe in myself, that women can lead and that we can fight the patriarchal system and target the 50-50. The biggest challenge as a leader is being accepted in society, especially by men—there are a lot of stereotypes about women’s leadership and a lot of harassment by men who say that women cannot be leaders. I am not giving up! I continue to fight and stand strong. I believe in myself, and I believe that one day, because I have the self-confidence to demonstrate my ability, people will accept me as a woman leader.”


Sophia Charles Fugameza, running for the Mwanza City Council

Sophia Charles Fugameza, running for the Mwanza City Council, Tanzania. Photo: UN Women/Stephanie Raison.
Photo: UN Women/Stephanie Raison.

”I want to be involved in politics to prove that women are capable of leadership. Even though I am mature, I still think I have the ability to lead and to improve my life and others’ lives through leadership. My daughter Neema [see above] inspired me, because through her experience [as a parliamentary candidate in 2010], I saw that she was capable of contesting against some of the strongest men in this area. One of the candidates she competed against is a rich man here in Mwanza, but my daughter was able to confront him, contest with him and also take votes from him.”


Laurencia Kanana Magambo, running for the Ukerewe District Council

Laurencia Kanana Magambo, running for the Ukerewe District Council, Tanzania. Photo: UN Women/Stephanie Raison.
Photo: UN Women/Stephanie Raison.

“I realized that, as an appointed special-seats representative, I don’t have any area of accountability. As an elected ward representative, I can address the issues more squarely and assist in addressing the more pertinent issues in society, such as early pregnancy among female students. There are lots of issues that government workers face in Ukerewe in delivering services, such as teachers, who are abandoned and don’t get support. There are many hardships in my district and sometimes women are forced into unwanted marriages to escape poverty. There is also a lot of discrimination by leaders against female workers.”