As part of its efforts towards addressing the challenges faced by women and girls in rural areas, Women Fund Tanzania funded in 2015 a local based women initiative through CEWOD (Women Centre for Communication and Development) to run a program titled “Fostering Inclusiveness of Grassroots Women in the Electoral process”. CEWOD is a grassroots empowerment membership based organization established in August, 2008 in Handeni, Tanga Region. It envisions a society where disadvantaged and marginalized women, youth and children are empowered to take part in development processes and have equal rights and access to resource that bridge poverty, marginalization and discrimination. It is an organization comprising of 68 members and the board of directors consists of 12 members.
The funded project entailed conducting a gender sensitive voter and civic education program for 200 grassroots women in Handeni with the aim to enable them make informed voting and leadership decisions. This was a training program which not only emphasized on the technical aspects of voting, but also on the importance of women participation during the entire election process, both as voters and as candidates.
The program developed gender-sensitive voter education messages that highlighted capacities of women as candidates and political representatives; encouraged women to be aspirants of constituency; emphasized that votes are personal and an individual’s secret, (i.e. not “family votes”); taught women on how to vote as well as what the responsibilities of the electorate and elected officials are. Male community leaders, party officials, and religious leaders endorsed and participated in the training and education programs for women under focus.
The training taught participating citizens that elections serve as the most tangible benchmark for assessing the progress of development. Capacities of young women in the communities were built to the extent that a number of women dared to aspire for leadership positions within their constituencies. Political party leaders, Local Government Authority leaders, leaders of Faith Based Organizations, men and women of the communities at large recognized and accepted that it is women’s basic human right to contest for and be elected to leadership positions.
Below are some highlights demonstrating how the provided gender sensitive civic education through this program inspired women and adolescent girls in Handeni to aspire for and winning leadership positions in their constituencies:
Women as Leaders in Different Political and Social Spaces: Inspired and becoming more aware of their rights through attendance of CEWOD civic and leadership trainings and conscious raising processes of women and communities, a number of women and girls in Handeni built their confidence to contest for leadership positons during the 2015 election. A total of 27 women contested for various leadership positions in: Ward Council, Ten Cell, Village Leadership where out of these 9 were successful. For example, Zuhura Ali Mhandeni won Ward Counsellorship through Special seats nominations, while Mwajabu Omar got elected as a Ward Counsellor through the constituency. Anna Magala and Judith Kuchira won village leadership positions, and the street leadership position went to Mariam Mnidu.
Even for those women who did not win, they attested that they had benefited much from the CEWOD program and that they will continue using the gained skills and exposure in their daily lives. One Ms. Zainab Omar, who was a candidate for a Ward Counsellor leadership position through special seats but was not successful, cited that she has not given up and was eagerly looking to contest in the coming general election as a formidable candidate. She attributed her inspiration from the CEWOD training under WFT funding as her stepping stone “The training has shaped who I am today to a large extent, given the fact that I was not fully informed and aware of my civic and constitutional rights….. In this training, I met strong women who inspired and motivated me to contest”.
Furthermore, the CEWOD civic and leadership trainings and consciousness raising initiatives of communities on women and leadership enabled Amina Omari Masukuzi, a community activist and a member of VICOBA, to contest for and win the position of Secretary of Madrassa Nurul Hudea in their community. This was a leadership position within the Moslem community and in this way, Amina has broken the myth that women are not capable of and cannot hold a leadership position in a religious (Muslim) institution. This thus was an important landmark in setting positive examples for women and young Muslim girls on issues of promoting their leadership rights and skills.