Leaving Women Behind would be a Big Mistake

By Alvaro Rodriguez, UN Resident Coordinator in Tanzania


UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative, Mr. Alvaro Rodriguez (right) visits UNFPA's 'Afya Bora ya Mama na Mtoto' maternity ward in Pemba. Photo| File


Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) calls for ‘achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls by the year 2030’. When we talk about ‘women’s empowerment’ and ‘gender equality’, we refer to two phrases that are trending ahead of International Women’s Day on 8 March and it is important to understand what they mean. I would suggest that we should seek three inter-related objectives, all of which will contribute to Tanzania achieving its National Vision:

First, legal empowerment of women: This refers to having the right laws and institutions in place to ensure the same rights for women as for men as well as protection from gender-based violence women such Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and domestic violence. This involves work at policy level with senior officials in the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the state, but also at community level where harmful traditional practices still remain.

Second, political empowerment of women: Politically empowering women means making sure that they have representation in government and organizations in civil society and that their voices are heard. If women’s voices are to be heard and felt, they need to be involved in decision-making from the central government level all the way to the wards and villages as well.

Third, socio-economic empowerment of women:  We need to enable women to gain access to the tools they need to play an active role in the socio-economic development of the country. All Tanzanian girls and women must receive good health and education services that will enable them to develop the skills needed to help develop the private sector of the country. We need more women running their own businesses and in management positions – including as CEOs.

As One UN Tanzania, all UN agencies and in particular UN Women, we work closely with the government to support the Five-Year Development Plan and Mkuza III in Zanzibar through our own  plan -  the United Nations Development Assistance Plan (UNDAP II) – to empower women legally, politically and socio-economically. This work also aims to achieve gender equality which is about having a balance in the relationships between men and women, relationships of equality and respect.

Many steps have already been taken by national authorities to promote the status of women in Tanzania. We note with great satisfaction the National Plan of Action on Violence Against Women and Children. This has facilitated greater support for the establishment of gender and children’s desks at police stations where policemen and policewomen who have been trained on how to address issues of gender-based violence and child abuse. Our hope is to have a gender desk at every police station in the country. Many other initiatives, including free education, are also to be congratulated and supported by us all.

I must admit that I am saddened that in 2018, well into the 21st century, there are still men that think it is acceptable to physically and mentally abuse women and children and to hold them back and ‘leave them behind’. We should all strive to change these beliefs. There is not only a moral, ethical and rights-based reason to address these beliefs, but also an economic one. Tanzania needs the full engagement of women to achieve its development objectives, not just to be a middle-income country, but a high-income country after that.  

By having an honest and open dialogue and engaging all stakeholders, particularly the media and communities, we can ensure that more is done to protect girls and women and to include them in all facets of society.

My message to all Tanzanian men as we mark International Women’s Day is: You cannot leave half of the population behind and seek to prosper. It is like working with one arm tied behind your back. There are over 26 million females in Tanzania. If we ignore them, if we do not empower and educate them, if we do not stop FGM and early marriages, some of the SDGs will not be met and I am sure we all believe Tanzania can meet the Goals Goals if everyone focuses on their achievement.

In concluding, hongereni sana wanawake wa Tanzania katika siku hii muhimu! Wanawake wanaweza!


Alvaro Rodriguez is the UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Representative in Tanzania