Please note, I am one of TAMWA's Founding Members.
Bravo, TAMWA, for searching for women activists
By Salma Mlindi
Tanzania Media Women Association`s 20th anniversary has clearly reflected how the association is determined in advocacy regarding African women`s activism as narrated by Special Correspondent Salma Mlindi: On March 29, 2008 the Tanzania Media Women`s Association (TAMWA) began a week long commemoration of 20 years of advocacy for women`s human rights. Among activities earmarked to mark the occasion include the opening of a self-sponsored office building; the launch of a Fundraising Campaign for a Women`s Media and Documentation Centre; and a book launch of TAMWA`s story in pioneering social transformation in Tanzania as experienced by members, supporters and friends.
TAMWA was officially launched and registered in 1987 by 10 women pioneers working in the media with two major objectives: to agitate for a positive portrayal of women in the media; and to raise the academic and professional standards of female journalist to enable them to assume positions of influence in the media with the expectation that they will have a voice with regard media content and output in so far as its portrayal of women.
Twenty years later TAMWA has much to celebrate about. Arguably TAMWA is the foremost advocacy organization for women`s right in Tanzania. TAMWA`s command of the local media is unparralled and stems from years of capacity building and advocacy of media heads in various media institutions.
Nevertheless, in Tanzania, TAMWA is best known for its work in gender-based violence. Soon after its formation, TAMWA made it her business to expose crimes against women that were otherwise considered taboo. The association has demonstrated its commitment in the struggles against domestic violence and notably wife beating, incest, and family neglect together with sexual harassment at workplaces.
TAMWA also addressed the larger phenomena of sexual abuse against women and children in Tanzania, contributing to the impetus of increased local responses to address the phenomena. The association has teamed up with other associations with similar objectives of liberating women in the country. The associations include the Tanzania Women Lawyers Association. Undeniably, Gender Based Violence (GBV) is the mother of activists` struggles in Tanzania thanks to a large part to TAMWA`s relentless advocacy on the issues.
Other than the ongoing Campaign on breast cancer by the Tanzania Medical Women`s Association (MEWATA) which is mainly service-oriented no other advocacy campaign has been as successful as the Campaign to Stop GBV launched by TAMWA in the mid 1990`s. Through innovative strategies like media advocacy, action research and campaigns TAMWA made sure that her advocacy agenda was current news and popular, not just with legislators and bureaucrats but with the local populace.
It is not unheard of that activists visiting any village in Tanzania would be approached by concerned villagers about human rights violations against women and children in the belief that the activist who cared enough to visit them represents TAMWA. While Tanzania now has a number of women`s rights organizations, TAMWA remains the most recognized and coined by men and women alike. TAMWA`s advocacy ensured that GBV was not only named, but was also unpacked and demystified.
Certainly fifteen years ago many Tanzanians did not know about the prevalence of female genital mutilation FGM)in the country. Personally, I learnt about the practice in France after watching a documentary prepared by Sudanese women on alternative forms of cutting. However, building on her research work on crimes committed against women undertaken with journalists in various regions of Tanzania, TAMWA exposed FGM and made it a national agenda.
Consequently, Tanzania was among the first countries to outlaw FGM and to have an active anti-FGM network at regional and national levels. Another less publicized issue was the deaths of old women accused of witchcraft in west and north western Tanzania.
TAMWA made the link between the deaths of old women to economic insecurity experienced in most poor rural communities. Access to landed resources increasingly endangered the lives of old women occupying land that younger relatives wanted to access and control. Other than changing the dominant perspective about the issue, especially witchcraft beliefs, TAMWA was able to lend impetus to and influence the content of the Land Campaign in the late 1990`s to address the question of women\'s access and control of landed resources.
In many ways TAMWA activist trajectory informed and continues to inform my own activist trajectory. I was introduced to TAMWA in the early 1990\'s when I was still doing my LLB helping out in what was then known as the Library and Documentation Unit. This was the beginning of my own official activist trajectory and as Fatma Alloo, the first TAMWA Chairperson, puts it, ``Of channeling my anger against injustice towards more productive activist enterprise``.
Other than having first hand access to feminist literature from different parts of the world, I got to meet many authors and or subjects of books in the centre satiating my growing zeal for alternative leadership figures and visions. Just as the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) Women Wing and later Umoja wa Wanawake Tanzania (UWT) was a pioneer for women`s interests pre and post-independence, TAMWA pioneered autonomous women rights organizations as well as autonomous advocacy agendas.
Figures that led TAMWA also offered the first real taste of female leadership outside the dominant party structure. The growth of private media houses meant that TAMWA personalities were recognized nationally, often times as readily as leading government figures. The pedestal TAMWA has come to enjoy in the civil society sector means that the successes and struggles she achieves impact on the larger women`s movement in Tanzania.
Thus, when in the mid nineties TAMWA suffered an organizational crisis bought on by rapid organizational growth, burn out and rifts between the ranks that otherwise would be normal in an organizational context but that spiraled to become personal because of the absence of an awareness in how to manage the health of a dynamic, visible and politically charged organization, mushrooming advocacy organizations held their breath.
They were conscious that TAMWA`s failure would reflect not just in the women`s movement, but also in the larger civil society sector that was beginning to attract some level of sanction on account of its work. Perhaps the crisis appeared bigger than it actually was because the emerging activist sector while commonly survives on camaraderie, trust and enthusiasm had not had to deal with the full force of what it means to be empowered individuals.
Also the age old habit of selfless devotion and sacrifice `serving others` most women succumb to, may have been transferred to the activist space such that some members may have felt not adequately appreciated. Indeed in an activist space the actors are many, the roles more visible and the stakes are higher such that it is not uncommon for egos to become more sensitive to criticism or doubt. Nonetheless, TAMWA survived and emerged stronger.
In fact the crisis introduced the notion of organizational health and anti burn out measurers to CSOs. Following an emotional OD intervention members were able to come to terms with their reality and create a healthier space to address existing and perceived weaknesses. TAMWA had to change and since she has learnt the value of reinventing herself and her agenda making it timeless. TAMWA`s records successes not just institutionally, but also with her membership which comprises of exceptional pioneers.
Edda Sanga was Chief Controller and acting head of Radio Tanzania Dar es Salaam (RTD) before her retirement while Joyce Mhaville manages the largest private radio and television network in the country. Fatma Alloo, Halima Sheriff and Rose Kalemera all among founder members have also worked in the civil society sector serving and serve in a number of prestigious boards. Pili Mtambalike and Rose Haji work for the Media Council of Tanzania and MISA-Tanzania respectively.
Young women journalists who interned at TAMWA are mostly employed as media consultants and directors in the private sector. Mahfoudha Alley Hamid, a TAMWA veteran was a member of the first East Africa Legislative Assembly and currently serves as Deputy Chairperson for the Tanzania Human Rights and Good Governance Commission while others like Zainab Vulu serve as Parliamentarians and others like Halima Kihemba and Betty Mkwasa in local government administration.
As I danced and ululated in celebration with women I had known and grown with for 20 years, I could not help but feel a strong sense of achievement. Members I had not seen for a number of years trickle into the new headquarters to join in the momentous occasion. There was laughter and congratulations all round.
By sheer will the vision of 10 women, who the whole world seemed to ridicule had lived on, thrived and triumphed! It inspired and gave birth to other smaller social justice movements at local and national levels.
The Tanzanian First Lady, Mama Salma Kikwete graced the occasion. I was gripped by a strange disquiet as she posed a challenge to TAMWA for the next twenty years. As I looked around me, I wondered would I recognize my sisters (and brothers) in activism 20 years from now? Certainly, mostly TAMWA members and `official` activists`` attended the event. I would have loved to see greater participation of the population that TAMWA spent 20 years advocating for.
Perhaps a public solidarity walk would have been more appropriate to facilitate a broad based commemoration. Also while there were a few men in attendance, many men representing media organizations stayed away. How could they then be seen to lend moral support to women`s human rights when such support is not felt in physical terms?
While TAMWA`s successes fill me with pride I can`t help but worry about the implications. I worry whether the agenda we have fought so hard to push is getting co-opted as more young women with activist potential are being lured by the private sector which is reverting to selling the sexualized image of young women.
It is no secret that other than plastering images of young and supposedly successful women in marketing ads, many companies employ younger women because of the `sex appeal` they offer. Another consideration is the lower wages they attract in contrast to male executives. This is not to say that young female media practitioners are not worth their salt. Rather there is a real concern around the original agenda of using the media to conscientize about and advocate women`s human rights being compromised in the era of a liberal media and economy.
The detachment of young women from the struggles of past is palpable as most activists organizations and initiatives remain dominated by middle aged and retired women. Young professions have sold out to the liberal economy as most become preoccupied with becoming successful in the market and portraying an outer image of success through apolitical consumerism. Gender discrimination has mutated or gone underground such that young female professionals appear clueless about the struggles of past that brought about the even playing field they now enjoy.
Mistakenly, and perhaps because they come armed with an education, they think this is how things were and will continue to be. Indeed, TAMWA produced young professionals and executives who can compete with handsome pledges to her fundraiser providing much needed relief from over demanding and increasingly tightfisted funders.
But I wonder if in so doing whether the women`s movement is not opening itself up to an elitist and consumerist culture that is unconcerned with the means through which she achieves her end? Or is it a matter of redefining our values? Salma Mlidi is a political activist.