Post-Tanzania Reflections from Kelly Ramsauer, IYIP Intern with VIDEA in Dar Es Salaam with the Children’s Dignity Forum (CDF)
One of the most striking aspects I found working with Tanzanians on issues of gender equality through the Children’s Dignity Forum (CDF) were the strong & active groups of men and boys outspokenly engaged in the fight for gender equality. In my first week at work, overwhelmed with new experiences, new surroundings, new smells, new food & the humid heat waves of Dar Es Salaam, I attended a workshop on Sexual and Reproductive Rights & Services, that was attended by more men & boys, than women or girls! I was amazed…and intrigued.
Unlike many other countries – both developed and developing – I experienced one of the most progressive views on gender inequality right here in Africa – not Norway, Germany or any other “developed” country. There are several national & international networks spreading across African countries, such as the MenEngage Africa network, that specifically target and include men and boys’ voices on issues ranging from fatherhood, marriage, harmful traditional practices, paternal leave and other gender issues.
One of the most educational & interesting meetings I had the privilege to go to, was with 4 traditional leaders, who were all men in their 80s, most having walked over two hours to our field office to meet with us and discuss girls’ alternative rites of passage. They all spoke different tribal languages, came from different clans, and were the keepers & protectors of their culture & traditions, a responsibility passed down to them from their fathers & grandfathers, but were incredibly welcoming and open to discuss changes & alternatives to protect their women & girls from some incredibly dangerous consequences of female genital mutilation (FGM), child marriage or child pregnancy.
VIDEA’s internship placements are all with non-governmental organizations that contribute and focus on gender equality through human-rights based approach; CDF however, is an exception among them, in that it is the only one led by a fierce & passionate male Executive Director. He comes into the office wearing shirts with Swahili slogans of equality, women’s revolution & youth engagement written on them; he encourages me to go back home to Canada and found my own NGO’s to advocate for gender equality & community involvement; and he really wants to hire a male program officer for CDF.
I have never seen as many men be as vocal as these inspirational Tanzanians about what are generally considered “women’s issues”. Harmful cultural practices of FGM , child marriage, lack of alternative forms of income for women, birth control or rape culture is simply seen as an issue that affects the entire population, not just the mothers, sister, grandmothers or daughters of Tanzania.
The simple term gender in Canada is so intrinsically linked with the female population that many “forget” that there are actually more actors than just the women in this discussion.
While African countries still have a long way to go to overcome gender inequalities – many of them linked to cultural & traditional practices that have been practiced for hundreds of years – developed countries, like Canada could certainly learn one or two things from a country like Tanzania.
Excluding half of the population to a fair, safe & equal chance in life is simply not sustainable in the long run and still has to be address by many countries, whether considered a developed or developing nation.
Kelly Ramsauer, is a recent IYIP Intern with VIDEA in Dar Es Salaam with the Children’s Dignity Forum (CDF).