Gender (in?)equality and prejudice

My stay here in Stone Town is almost coming to an end. Having spent more than seven weeks here, I’ve reflected a bit surrounding gender equality, prejudice and preconceived notions about Africa and developing countries in general. Before coming here, I, like perhaps many others, assumed that I would be going to a country where gender inequality was highly prevalent. I spent a lot of time thinking of how I would respond if somebody questioned why I travel alone as a female, why I’m not yet married or have any children etc. I also mentally prepared for the eventuality of males trying to hush me down, ignore my thoughts and undermine my ability as a woman and, worst case scenario, how I would behave when experiencing sexism or harassment without jeopardizing my own safety. I believe these thoughts have developed because of a narrative that has always been presented to me about developing countries and how they are far behind when it comes to gender equality and how the Western world is advanced in this area.

Instead, my prejudices have been challenged and many times, gotten a big slap in the face. In the second week of being here, I had a conversation with my Swahili teacher (who is a male) about gender inequality. We started talking about the subject when he told me about something interesting he had come to find out somewhere, which he found shocking and disturbing. He told me that he had heard that over in the US, women with the same education and work experience as their male counterparts were not receiving the same salaries as the men. I still remember his surprised reaction when I explained to him that this unfortunately, is the case for many other countries, including countries in Europe. He went on to say that it would be impossible for that to happen here in Zanzibar and even illegal. We later continued on having a long discussion about gender inequality and how it manifests itself differently depending on the country.

Now, I am no expert in Tanzanian/Zanzibari policies and regulations, nor am I saying that Zanzibar is without flaws, because that’s far away from the truth. But one thing I do know is that ever since I came here I’ve seen women in top leading positions, giving out assignments and orders to their male colleagues and employees. Something I honestly did not think I would witness prior to coming here. The head dean at my university is a woman, several of the people in charge that I met at different ministries and institutions while applying for a research permit, have been women. I’ve seen a majority of female doctors at hospitals, many of the police officers I’ve met have been women and, even in my hostel where I am currently living, there is gender parity in housekeeping, reception and in the restaurant. I say all this to say, that in a developing country that is predominantly Muslim, I have witnessed a gender parity and a sense of equality that I would not have expected before coming here. I also believe, that my own country of Sweden who prides itself in being the first feminist government in the world, has a lot of inspiration to draw from this small island off the coast of East Africa.

Having no phone on a paradise island makes it a bit hard to complete eye-catching blog posts. But when you have sunsets like these and new-found friends that capture them for you, it’s not that bad 🙂

Tanzania – a last reflection

During three months, I did a field study in Tanzania about aid and women’s education. I investigated two projects that focus on young women’s education. One of the projects is the Mama-course program, which gives pregnant girls a second chance to education, and the other is the Help-to-help foundation, which offers scholarships and skill-training to ambitious students who wish to study at university but don’t have the economic means to pay the tuition fees. After interviewing numerous people, I strongly believe that both of DSC02099these programs are important, and that they include a new way of thinking about aid. In my opinion, these projects respond to the local needs, build human capacity, and provide ground for making long-lasting changes in the society. They alter social norms, help people to be independent, and thus, empower the poor and marginalized.

The time I spent in Tanzania was valuable, and I learned a lot. I will certainly miss the friends I got and the adventures I woke up to every day. I am very grateful to all the people who helped me with various things, participated in my study, and made my stay a blessed one. In very few places, I have received so much love.

Nevertheless, there are numerous issues in Tanzania that are problematic and hinder its development. The country has been dependent on foreign aid for decades, and this without showing much progress. One might ask if the external support impede on the government responsibility to provide political goods to its population. Is aid a solution for development, and if so, how should the external support be carried out?DSC02923

The government aspires for Tanzania to be a middle-income country in the near future. And indeed, it is a country with resources, and the economic growth has been high for several years, with an annual growth rate around 7 %. However, the majority of the population is still living in poverty, with a huge gap between the rich and the poor. Gender equality is far from reached. Women are still doing most of the work in the household, they are often discouraged to make their voices heard, and they might not have the right to decide over their own bodies. Forced marriages, early pregnancies, and sexual violence occur. Domestic violence is more a rule than an exception. In many schools, children are beaten by their teachers if they don’t behave in a disciplined way. The pupils might be punished if they fail an exam, have a sexual relationship, or are late to school because they had to work in the morning.

Nonetheless, most Tanzanians I met were proud of their reputation of being so peaceful. But from my view-point, it seems to be a long way to go before peace has occurred at all levels in their society.

IMG_2930A sustainable development must include empowerment of the disadvantaged.  All people should have the right to a decent life, without discrimination or violence. I went to Tanzania with the idea that education is the ground for development. But education is not enough. It must be qualitative, based on individual needs, and it should provide for life-long learning. To have a school system in which the students are worried about not being able to pay the school fees, are afraid to be beaten, and are not allowed to ask questions or think critically, and where boys and girls do not have the same chance to finish their studies, it might be very difficult to develop to a middle-income country. The change must come from within. Economic development is not the same as sustainable development. Education is a step, but it must be carried out in a way that provides for the people to be able to build the country. If aid should be a way to reach these goals, it must help people to help themselves towards a sustainable development. I hope that people will get the chance to understand their capacity to change their lives and to improve their conditions. It’s time that Human Rights become global norms.


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