TRADITIONAL TANZANIAN SOCIETIES ARE SEGREGATED.  The practice is more pronounced and entrenched among rural communities of Tanzania where traditionally, interaction between the two sexes is structured and limited.

There are clear demarcation lines separating what is designated male and what is designated female.  This includes work; socialization; and ownership of resources.  Tradition in rules, norms and social mores are generally accepted by women in the grassroots. 

Making our experiences known

Most ethnic groups in Tanzania are overwhelmingly patriarchal. Even among traditional matrilineal ethnic groups, patriarchy has had a strong influence in capturing the powers and influence of matriarchs and handing over that power and influence to men under the guise of cultural credo,

that the male is the head of his clan; family; home; and destiny of the female members in his family.

Though often times, male family members assert the power when it comes to division of family properties in inheritance; in forcing daughters or sisters to get married so the male members of the family would get the bride price; or while attempting to control the incomes of female family members.

Seldom do the men take over full responsibility which goes along with being ‘Head of the Family’. The care; responsibility; and work is left to women. Men ‘come’ in when it comes to control of a woman; hear earnings; her freedoms; and her Right to make decisions over her life.

“Most women still need a room of their own and the only way to find it may be outside their own home.”

Germaine GreerFeminist WriterAuthor of “The Female Eunuch

The domain of the man is public and outside his house and a woman is reared to believe that the only space she has is in the house, under the watchful eye and often heavy hand of the male members of her family.

Any male member of a family can hit a woman – father, brother, husband/lover, son, nephew, uncle.  The woman would not have the option of seeking protection from another family member.

Researchers often discuss wife battery.  Very few studies have focused on sister; daughter; aunt; or mother related violence.

It is one of the most common and widespread forms of Gender Based Violence.  Unlike a wife who has a certain degree of leverage by paying back the bride price and leave, sisters; daughters; aunts; grandmothers; or mothers; cannot divorce abusive brothers; nephews; grandsons; uncles; or sons.

When Sylvia Platt wrote ‘The Bell Jar”, she was telling a story about mental illness among women caused by societal expectations of what a woman should be, how she ought to behave and the insistence from society that a woman has to be confined in a tiny space, a box, often crowded with criticism, judgement and lack of respect for her dignity and her self esteem.

In the context of the Temeke women, respondents of a TGNP Study, we discovered they (the respondents) had been confined in vibuyu, tiny spaces, and within those spaces, there was Domestic/Intimate Partner Violence; poverty; stigma and discrimination; lack of self-esteem; lack of mobility.

Within those ‘vibuyu’, the proverbial bell jar, the study respondents felt stifled; suffocated; poor; diseased; accosted by emotional and physical violence; by stigma and discrimination; and they felt the need to start or join groups/movements in a bid to reclaim their lives.

That was the beginning of their journey to freedom.  By getting out of that kibuyu, and by creating new and larger spaces for themselves, the women found that the road to emancipation lay in poverty reduction.  Each of the respondents said, “Money/wealth is power. You become strong when you are economically independent”.


To quote, Tumaini, a woman living with HIV:

They (in-laws) threw me out of my marital home when their son, my husband, died of AIDS.  I took my two daughters and went to SHDEPHA the network of People Living with HIV and AIDS where they allowed me to stay in the office with my children.  The organisation gave me a loan of 20,000/= and I started selling maandazi/dough nuts.

Of course, I have to hide the fact that I have HIV otherwise, they wouldn’t buy my maandazi.  But here I am, I have rented a room, my children are going to school.  Moreover, I have been trained in home based care so I volunteer twice a week, visiting families with AIDS patients to train them on caring for AIDS patients.  I am happy.


Breaking free from the proverbial bell jar and going outside and making spaces for themselves outside their homes away from the traditional family structures, adopting male defined spheres and mode of work like buying and selling wood (FERRY WOMEN’S GROUP) has made the women assertive and to a large extent, non-dependent on male support.

For example, Madrassa’l Hidaya has graduated from making and selling ‘vikapu’ (baskets), to making “viungo” – makuti, roofing mats which is traditionally defined as man’s work.

It was men who made viungo and thatched roofs, symbolic of “providing shelter”; a male designated space, because traditionally, it was men who were expected to “provide” shelter.

The women of Madrassa’l Hidaya have broken that myth and are now making and selling viungo.Support to children living in vulnerable circumstancesThere is a cluster in Kigamboni which supports orphans and street children. So far there are 140 street children who have been registered and are receiving guidance and counselling from the Kigamboni cluster, which comprises 17 women’s groups which got together to form collectives for poverty reduction.

But without training on CSO management, report write up, fund raising skills, the cluster hasn’t been able to take advantage of the various schemes and funding projects that would make their work more impactful.  The 140 orphans comprise both girls and boys, Christians and Muslims.

In this respect the Kigamboni cluster is inclusive and not selective of sex or religion while giving support to orphans and children under vulnerable circumstances (OVC’S).  On average, the groups in the cluster have been in existence for 5-10 years.  They have established a base by wrangling with the local government, the private sector who are operating tourist hotels in the area and with patriarchy.

At group level, the women formed groups with the vision of working together to reduce poverty and to obtain support and solidarity while engaging in their quest for economic empowerment.

At cluster level, the groups came together because of violation of land rights, being deprived of their work spaces when their kiosks were run over by bulldozers belonging to private companies who had ‘acquired’ the land.

Although the groups are motivated by the vision of economic empowerment, the underlying factor that brought them together is shared stories of GBV, being deprived of subsistence support or abandoned by husbands.Several groups were also formed because that was the only outlet they had of “being allowed permission” to go outside their homes.

For example, the Nyakanga wa Unyago who train girls in rites de passage have permission to leave their homes to go out and train girls in unyago, but then again, these are elderly women and within their communities elderly women have a certain degree of freedom to come and go outside their homes.

In the case of Madrassa’l Hidaya, the women – relatively young – formed the group with the purpose of learning religious tenets and scripture, but underlying that factor is the fact that women are denied permission to socialize outside their homes and using the reason of learning religious tenets and scripture has given members of Madrassa’l Hidaya some degree of socialization outside the confines of their homes.  So every afternoon for two hours, members meet to learn religion but in the process, they socialize; form solidarities and support networks; and have started becoming vocal in advocating for the rights of Muslim women to work; ownership of property; and speak up against GBV.  They have also started poverty reduction measures by forming an informal cooperative of selling their vikapu/woven baskets and starting a revolving fund.

In the case of FERRY group, the members go as far as Amadori Forest to buy firewood which they sell in Kigamboni.

They formed a group for the sake of security.  Early on, they realised it’s not safe for women to venture into the forest alone often before dawn; so forming a group not only provides bargaining muscle with woodcutters, it also affords them security.

The FERRY group in the Kigamboni cluster move as a group – going to buy firewood in Amadori Forest, bargaining with woodcutters and transporters as a group, and selling the firewood to clients as a group.  They also socialize during weddings; assist each other during funerals and ‘watch over’ group members’ children because they keep a roster of shifts for going to Amadori Forest.

“ULINZI” is a word often used by the respondents of the Study. Literal translation means, “defence” and in the context of the respondents it means ‘protection’, ‘security’, ‘inclusion’ and ‘affiliations’.

WAZEE Kigamboni, a group of elderly women ranging in age from 65-75 years of age are mainly victims of age violence. They pick shells from the beach which they sell in lots to a producer of chicken feed who mixes the crushed shell with grain for chicken feed.

At a glance, it would seem their collecting shells from the beach and selling them activity is the bonding agent. But with deeper discussions, we learnt that they had been physically and/or emotionally abused by members of their families, accused of witchcraft, deprived of their family homes and thrown out to sleep on the street or in Mosques.
Forming a group that would bring in income was borne out of necessity. It was also borne out of loneliness. They were shunned by society having been branded witches. They were isolated and forming their group has given them a new identity. From being called witches, they now call themselves WAZEE, a term that gives them respect and status.


HAKI YETU’ is the secretariat of the Kigamboni cluster.  The cluster does not have formal structures, or written memorandum of understanding for cluster members.  They however, have an understanding by meeting once a month to discuss issues like – drug abuse among Kigamboni youths; support to orphans and street children; network; and give each other support.

HAKI YETU is coordinated by Subira Kibiga, a feminist activist who formed the group to advocate for land rights.  HAKI YETU is the initiator of the Kigamboni cluster “Uwingi, Umoja ni Nguvu/There is strength in numbers”.

All the 17 groups in the Kigamboni cluster are made up of women members.  When asked to elaborate, the groups said their ‘sera’ – policy categorically states one of the criteria for joining is gender.  You need to be a woman to be eligible for membership.

The groups have structures with a board, weekly or monthly meetings for members and articulated agendas.  They do not have clearly defined strategies for record keeping; report write-up; or formal, structured meetings the reason being the following factors:

  • Low literacy levels for the majority of the members in the 17 groups
  • Lack of skills in CSO management and organisational development

Their meetings tend to be informal but not ad hoc.  There is a strong sense of purpose when they arrange to meet and during the meetings, they are also quite disciplined as illustrated by the level of attendance to meetings and their attention to the issues discussed during the meetings.

This factor is notable – though they have low literacy levels, they categorically refuse to include male members in their groups.  They say, “Yes, men are literate, they would help with record keeping and project document write up.  But then, they will take over, men always take over and push us aside”.
The Vijibweni group leader came up with the following quote:  “A woman’s best protection is a little money of her own” Evelina Mahundi”.

The women in the group are also disciplined in paying their annual membership fees. For example, the members of WAMBOKI contribute 5,000 TZS a month from the sale of their vegetables in order to pay for office rent, as well as to be part of a revolving fund which is given as loan to a member per month. With 10 members that comes to 50,000 TSZ per month.  The office rent is around 5,000 TZS per month, which means each month a member is given a loan of 45,000 TZS to build her own capital. The selection of the loan goes on rote.

WAMBUKI women are conscientious about monthly contributions, as they have all benefited from the fund. Without exception, all the women in the groups say “Hatutaki Kunyanyasika/We do not want to be despised dependants”.

As for the MAGOGONI Women’s Group which is involved in sewing and Mama Lishe/Food Vending activities while giving support to AIDS orphans, their vision is of owning a restaurant and a large tailoring mart.

Started two years ago, the women share stories of poverty; domestic violence; being deprived of shelter when they were thrown out of their marital homes; and of isolation.  Operating as lone Mama Lishe was not an option because they lacked the required capital to start food vending in the informal sector.

They pooled their resources and started the group as a cooperative. Being in a group also affords them a certain degree of protection.  They operate in an area full of rowdy and often rude fishermen who try to grope them at any opportunity.  Fighting back as a group gives them muscle and confidence.

TUPENDANE group in the Kigamboni cluster started as a Chapter of Umoja wa Wanawake wa Tanzania UWT, until 1996, after the multiparty system was introduced in Tanzania.

TUPENDANE stopped loving each other and scattered because of differing political party affiliations.  Seven years ago, they regrouped when the women discovered women’s issues are not prioritised within the agendas of the various political parties with which TUPENDANE members had allied themselves to.

Now their visions have transcended political partisanship and are focused on gender rights and poverty reduction.

They meet every Saturday for discussions and planning.  Mariam Yusufu the TUPENDANE Chairperson says, “Our moment of glory came when we employed two male tailors.  We flexed our muscles by showing women can employ men”.

Asked why they did not give the jobs to women seeing there is a high level of unemployment, Saada, a TUPENDANE member said, “The men

are good tailors, but we also wanted to show that women can be in a position to employ men”.

HAKI YETU started in 1996 with the support of feminist activist, the late Jamila Chipo Cushnie.  It was started with the idea of giving Muslim women space to learn crafts and to give support to street children who are not only deprived of shelter but are also sexually abused.

Jamila, a founder member of TAMWA, lobbied TAMWA who included HAKI YETU and the Kigamboni Cluster into the association’s outreach programme and the Community Crisis Centre Programme.

By 1998, Kigamboni had a drop-in centre for street children who have been sexually abused and for adult women undergoing domestic violence.  There is a high rate of domestic violence in the area caused by gender relations – low status of women; alcohol consumption; especially gongo and mnazi by men, but the centre died out because of various factors.  HAKI YETU continued with the outreach programme to raise awareness on child sexual abuse; land rights; gender rights; and in creating space for women to have forums for discussions and exchange ideas.

All the groups, with the addition of Tuamoyo, a fledgling group with three members, do not receive any funding from donors or development partners.  They rely on members’ subscriptions; their own contributions/donations from what they sell per their economic activity; and volunteer work.

The orphan support programme is done on a volunteer basis. The Outreach program too is done on a volunteer basis.

This has helped the women of the Kigamboni Cluster come out of the proverbial vibuyu, the bell jars; the box;  to become strong, assertive women.

“Together We Can Make it Happen”

Leila Sheikh

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