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Tanzanian Women’s Demands in the New Constitution


Tanzania is in the process of adopting a new constitution. Women’s rights groups are demanding a constitution which is gender sensitive. Will they be heard?

23.04.2014 Av: Kenny Ngomuo

The neoliberal policies and multiparty systems which were imposed on Tanzania by international institutions in the 1980s and early 1990s intensified the crises of political legitimacy. Consequently, there was an increasing crisis and protest against the plunder of national resources, including land grabbing. The struggles were about social and economic justice, such as rights to education, health, access to safe and clear water; all these have strong bearing with the current crises of demanding new constitutions in many African countries.

In the early 1990s, many Tanzanians were fed up with social inequalities driven by neoliberalism, both in the household and on the national level. Tanzanians wanted a new constitution in order to bring social and economic justice.

The current wave of constitutional debate has been triggered largely by rural and urban unemployment, especially among the youth, as well as the rising levels of poverty, exposure of grand corruption among government officials, and the rise of conflicts over land grabbing. Campaigns by activist groups against neoliberal policies and plans have had an effect of raising people’s awareness of these problems.

Women Have Suffered the Most

Although neoliberalism has adversely affected all social groups in Tanzania, women have suffered the most by facing multiple oppression and discrimination mostly associated with outdated norms.

Women are especially vulnerable due to patriarchal structures of property ownership. Often, male household heads sell family land without consulting their wives or other female family members.

Women have a higher rate of unemployment than men in most of Tanzania.  For example, in Dar es Salaam alone, the female unemployment rate stood at 40.3 percent in 2006 compared to 19.2 percent for males (TGNP, 2011). Still, about 40 percent of farming women and men in the rural areas live below the basic needs of poverty line (TGNP, 2010).[1] Again, women constitute 66 percent of unpaid family helpers.

Likewise, in terms of education, particularly in rural areas, 39.5 percent of women are illiterate compared to 25.3 percent of men (TGNP 2011).[2] Women experience sexual assault and rape, and these numbers increase every year. Women form the majority of the population in the country. They also provide 80 percent of labour force in rural areas and 60% percent of food production.[3]

Key Demands

The government committed itself to the new constitution agenda in December 2010 through the president’s public speech. It lacked, however, a clear strategy for the process. Nevertheless, attempts have been made to include women and men in consultative processes at all levels.

In Tanzania, women have been playing a big role in making sure that their key demands are incorporated in the new constitution. They demand that the new constitution:

  • be formed in a consultative process engaging women and men who have a right to own and use it to demand, protect and defend their fundamental rights. The new constitution should therefore be packaged in a women/user friendly language which is easily accessible and understood; 
  • acknowledge the additional burden which women carry, with minimal inputs and resources, and that the government should be held accountable in providing and investing in human reproduction through ensuring safety and security of women in performing this task. Women should have a final say on family planning matters. The government should ensure that the women’s health and life are not sacrificed;  
  • nullify all laws that contradict the fundamental and basic human rights for women and men. Particularly with regard to personal laws, laws of marriage, inheritance and clauses that allow cultural and social practices which are harmful to women and which allow discriminatory practices; 
  • provide for automatic domestication of all the instruments which the country is a party to, including those which are specifically on women’s rights such as CEDAW, CRC, and ILO Convention. The government should be held accountable in implementing these laws through instituting legal or policy instruments; 
  • spell out principles to protect women’s dignity, freedom from gender-based violence. This will include, among others, prohibiting cultural practices which undermine women’s dignity, such as female genital mutilation (FGM), wife inheritance, or ‘cleansing’, gender-based violence at home as well as in public spaces, forced marriage and other practices that undermine the rights of women to dignity; 
  • spell out principles which will prohibit one gender to monopolize political spaces, particularly the top level leadership. The government is to be held accountable for putting in place legal and policy instruments that will facilitate equal participation of women in top level leadership as provided for by the African Union Declaration which demands 50 percent representation; 
  • recognize that education is a basic right for both women and men and therefore the Government should be held accountable to ensure that every citizen has access to quality education up to the maximum level possible.

Women activists and organizations should continue creating awareness through civic education as part of preparation for all Tanzanians—women and men—to participate in the referendum process.

[1]TGNP Policy Brief no. 2 Kilimo Kwanza: What is it and what does it mean for marginalized women and men of Tanzania?

[2]  TGNP Policy Brief, Employment, livelihoods and trade: what plans are there for the poor and marginalized

[3]TGNP Contextual analysis report on Constitution, May, 2011.