IITA Tanzania celebrates International Women’s Day and launches local chapter of Women’s Group
From the doctor who is often referred to as a nurse because a doctor is expected to be male, to the architect whose construction workers will not follow her instructions without checking what the “engineer” (who is expected to be a male) says, and the entrepreneur who is always asked who is the man behind her successful business; these were some of the issues highlighted by a panel of women drawn from different backgrounds at an IITA-Tanzania event to commemorate this year’s International Women’s Day (IWD). This year’s theme was “Generation Equality: Realizing women’s rights for an equal future.”
The event was attended by staff and partners based at IITA Eastern Africa hub offices in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and female students from nearby secondary schools—Academic International School and Mikocheni Secondary School—and Ardhi University, accompanied by their teachers. The event was held on 12 March.
While making the opening remarks, the Director for Eastern Africa Hub Victor Manyong said that IITA was committed to achieving gender equality in the workforce across all levels including management. He pointed out that in Tanzania, there were more female managers than men.
Also, highlighting the progress of the IWD, the IITA Senior Scientist and Gender Specialist, Steven Cole noted that while this year marked 25 years since the Beijing Declaration, no country had achieved gender equality. He cited men and boy’s involvement as a key factor driving back gender equality and challenged everyone in the audience to think about constraints to achieving gender equality.
The panel discussion on “Generation equality: Progress and bottlenecks” brought together five women from the various fields of medicine, media, construction, and agribusiness. They shared their experiences on how they had made it in their fields and challenges they had to overcome as women to motivate the female students present to “soldier on” to achieve their dreams. Cole moderated the discussion.
During the panel discussion, Dr Victoria Heilman, an Architect and Chairperson for Tanzania Women Architects for Humanity (TAWAH) said that the casual laborers she was supervising at construction sites often ignored her instructions on technical work and told her they were waiting for the engineer (referring to a man) to give them instructions.
This was echoed by Dr Faith Mdee, a Gynecologist who noted that most people in the community did not understand that a woman could be a doctor. Therefore at the hospital, she was always referred to as “nurse”.
Joyce Shebe, the Chief Editor at Clouds Media and Chairperson for Tanzania Media Women Association also said that equality has been a big challenge in the newsrooms. Female journalists are usually assigned lighter roles such as covering soft news, while men are assigned to cover investigative and economic news.
“Women need to be aggressive to reach higher positions because men still dominate in newsrooms as well as in media organizations,” she said.
Hadija Jabir, a Business Administration graduate who is a farmer and runs a successful export agribusiness said, “Many people don’t believe that I founded my business of selling vegetables to European countries by myself. They think there was a man behind me, because they don’t believe a woman can stand on her own and be successful. And in Europe, they don’t believe, as an African woman, I can be running a successful business by myself.
“So I want to tell you, don’t let people define what you can and can’t do,” she advised the students.
Another panelist, Mwantumu Omari, an IITA Research Assistant and Chairperson of IITA Women Group Tanzania chapter, said women need to be responsible when they are given opportunities to show they are capable. “Determination and focus are key to success, have confidence in who you are and what you want to become.”
Commenting on the panel discussion and slogan of IWD 2020, Mirna Mussa a form six student at Academic International School said awareness on equality is important in the society so that people will know that there should be fairness between females and males. “Women are undermined despite the critical role they play; it is not fair. People have to be educated to understand the importance of equality.”
“Women will show their capabilities if they are given the same opportunities as men. Exercising equality will also reduce women’s harassment in the society,” said Marysiana George, a 4th-year student at Ardhi University pursuing a BA in Building Economics.
IITA Tanzania utilized the IWD celebration to launch IITA Women’s Group Tanzania chapter. The chairperson of the IITA Women Group and the Director of Eastern Africa Hub, cut a cake to symbolize the launch. Omari said the intention of the women’s group is to bring together IITA female staff and a couple of IITA International male staff to socialize and to provide humanitarian services to people in need.
The day ended with a one-hour exercise session for all the staff.