Dar es Salaam — “It is time now we stop shouting and do the real job and speed up the pace of solving existing challenges so that we meet our goals to have gender equality and enable more women to be in leadership positions,” recounted Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan at the Women Leaders Roundtable organized by UONGOZI Institute on 12th April 2016.

Held at the Julius Nyerere International Convention Center (JNICC) in Dar es Salaam, the Vice President was speaking to more than 100 women leaders gathered for a women leadership roundtable forum held in Dar es Salaam recently. The forum gathered women leaders from different institutions to meet and discuss enabling factors that had elevated them to positions they were in today in order to inspire others to do the same.

Former Speaker of the National Assembly Anne Makinda, former Minister for Finance, who also held other ministerial positions in former governments Zakia Meghji, founding member and former executive director of the Tanzania Gender Networking Programme Mary Rusimbi, former ACT presidential candidate Anna Mghwira and several other directors, chairpersons of boards of directors, managers and successful businesswomen were among the participants.

The main agenda was to discuss how other women were able to be where they were and what factors enabled them to reach where they were. Ms Sululu Hassan, who was the guest of honour, used the forum to urge participants not to neglect fellow women working close to them, but rather bring them closer, mentor them and climb with them to the top.

“It is not time to speak about challenges…these have been spoken over and over by other people. Let us from now onwards discuss what made you a successful woman. We need more women to climb to the top,” she said.

The world envisions having 50:50 representation of men and women in different leadership positions by 20130, which is also a deadline for the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) that include targets of achieving gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls. But in our country there are still fewer women in leadership positions. Today, there is only 30 per cent of women representatives in Parliament, most of who are special seats. But also the number is still low as women make only 17 per cent of members of the private sector’s boards of directors and also 11 per cent of managing director positions.

“It is better, therefore, forums like this one and discussions focus on identifying and advising the best way of promoting and sensitising women on leadership positions,” added Ms Suluhu.

Enabling factors 

At the forum, UONGOZI Institute’s Lead Researcher for the women’s programme, Ms. Caroline Israel, shared the results of a research that looked at various enabling factors that influenced women on attaining leadership positions. The research was conducted basing on women holding political positions by her institution last year. She said the findings saw women leaders identifying family and community, spouses, role models and the role of public institutions including schools and teachers, level of education, political parties, supportive networks and Parliament as the most mentioned factors to their success.

According to her, it is important to highlight the enabling factors for there is limited empirical evidence on the factors that help women break barriers at decision-making level.

Family

She said according to the findings a family background played a critical role in providing enabling cultural practices, exposure and a supportive environment to girls, which was important for grooming women into political leadership. “All respondents admitted that their fathers were instrumental in inspiring them to excel in their education, an aspect that they considered to have been important in opening doors for their political career. There were very few who mentioned a direct role of their mothers,” she said.

Role of spouses support was identified as a key-enabling factor for development of women’s political career. It was more critical for young women MPs, who were in their reproductive age. She added that the kind of support they got from the husband included fund raising, transport, taking care of children, editing speeches and emotional support. She noted that these played an important role for them to move on.

Role models

Women politicians, especially young women leaders get motivated and influenced on political leadership by various actors, including, women politicians and progressive men politicians.

“Several mentioned their female family members and veteran women politicians such as Bibi Titi Mohamed, Sophia Kawawa, Anna Abdallah and Anne Makinda,” she said adding that: Mwalimu Julius Nyerere (the first President of Tanzania and the Founding Father of the Nation) was also admired as a firm leader, but humble and down to earth.

Schools and teachers

School settings and teachers play a key role in instilling knowledge, moral and ethical standards, responsibilities and a strong work ethic, which contribute to women’s political leadership. She said the respondents strongly agreed that potential leadership attributes, which included confidence building, determination, motivation, proving one’s capabilities and inspiration were also found at school.

She further explained that the research had also identified other enabling factors, which played a great role in instilling leadership skills in women. She said social and supportive networks were a key resource for women political leaders and demonstrated useful ways of adding value for their effective leadership at different levels. Formal networks like CCM’s Women’s Wing and Civil society organisations “Informal networks have facilitated women to know each other better and share knowledge and experience in decision making positions.”

“Support ranged from a word of mouth, which encouraged one to make a decision, get moral and financial support during campaigns,” she said.

Ms Israel added that there were also individual women, who had employed a variety of methods to overcome systemic, structural and institutional barriers in their personal journey to political positions.

Message from key women 

Several key women used the forum to speak on how they made it to the top, saying education and parenting were important factors. Ms Meghji said she was born and raised in strong Islamic family and community, but her father valued very much education in child development. She said he hired a tutor from a mission school to teach his children at home.

“So, apart from religious education we got when we were small, formal education was also insisted and made me what I am today,” she said.

Ms Meghji added that she got support from her husband and that was an enabling factor for her. “I remember when I was appointed Mbeya regional commissioner, I had to leave my husband (Mr Meghji) in Kilimanjaro with my child, who was still very young. By then people from Mbeya were not pleased to be led by a woman regional commissioner. I had to work to my last energy to impress them I can perform as a man and even better.”

Ms Makinda stressed on hard work, saying, “It will make community around you appreciate what you are doing and give you the support you needs.”

Conducive environment Other women leaders called for the creation of a conducive environment that would allow women to work and utilise their potential, outlining that even when there were many enabling factors if the environment was not supportive of them they would not succeed.

“Education, for example, as an enabling factor cannot work to inspire a woman if other factors, including the environment, are not supportive of us.. We see a lot of uneducated women in rural areas, who manage their families well and send their children to school and excel. They have become leaders just because the environment supported them and gave them such an opportunity to show that they can,” said Ms Mghwira.

In the end, the women leaders appealed to members of the public to appreciate their positive contribution. They also encouraged each other to ensure they left no woman was not told the potential they had and the opportunities close to them. They said with that more women would become powerful and be among major decision-making bodies.

(Article courtesy of Saum Mwalimu, The Citizen)

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