MANY countries have scored high in promoting women through speaking-out-loud, documenting laws and adopting regional and international declarations and conventions on gender equality in past three decades, but practically it is still far from attaining the goal.
Nodding positively in support of promoting gender equality has not been put into implementation and the Tanzania Media Women Association (TAMWA), one of the leading gender activists in the country, says more efforts are needed to minimize gender parity as par Millennium Development Goals (MGDs) no 3.
In its recent survey (2012), TAMWA identified that a big gap between men and women is still wide, although due to increasing pressure from gender activists and pressure groups to the governments gender disparity has been narrowing gradually. Governments are required to observe human rights and implement reforms that will lead to minimize the existing gender inequality.
Millennium Development Goal (No. 3) also demands governments to promote gender equality and empower women by 2015. This goal came after the Beijing women conference, East African and SADC protocols and UN convention. It has been agreed that workable ways of promoting women and fighting gender inequality should give them in leadership positions and decision making groups, including in parliament and House of Representatives, but TAMWA researchers argue that women participation is insufficient.
"It is a pity that even the government is not doing enough to make sure that the number of women in decision making groups grows. Women are still few at district, regional levels leadership and in the government, women representation is still not convincing," the survey report says. According to the statistics from the ministry responsible for regional administration, out of ten district commissioners in Zanzibar, only two are women, while out of the five regional commissioners none is a woman and out of 331 community leaders (Shehas), only 23 are women.
"This is not enough if we really want to make sure that women voices are heard, we should increase their participation in decision making groups," it says as the TAMWA organization coordinator team in Zanzibar observes further. "This is evidence that most of the decision made in the country there is little or absence of women voice and yet, politicians in power are reluctant and still have the perception of masculinity to sideline women."
Other existing and emerging reasons for less participation of women in decision making groups in Zanzibar include religious argument, where most Muslims still believe that it is wrong for women to become leaders, sighting a verse in the Quran holy book.
Literacy, lack of confidence in most women, feminism perception, poverty in women and corruption are other problems hampering women participation in decision making groups.
Activists in Zanzibar including TAMWA suggest that the only elites political will, education to women, economic empowerment, government women rights friendly policies and women commitment can increase and improve women participation in decision making groups. A United Nations (UN) study has also revealed that still few women occupy positions in public decision-making. While their numbers have been increasing slowly in many countries, in most there has been little change.
The study reveals further that only in a few countries has the proportion of women reached a point where it can be said that their influence on public policy is comparable with that of men. The UN Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Nairobi Forward-Looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women to the Year 2000 reflect the significance that the United Nations attaches to the importance of equality as part of the process of the advancement of women, yet individual countries are not fully committed.
Even with different groups including scholars, activists and political practitioners examining and identifying obstacles to women's participation in decision-making and suggesting 'remedies,' many governments have been slow in reforms aiming at ending the inequality. Women are under-represented in many countries. The scarcity of women in senior positions inevitably means that their opinions are less likely to be voiced in policy and decision-making processes, which may lead to biased decision-making and priority settings.
Ms Dr Vibhuti Patel, a University professor at Mumbai in India, mentions women poverty, lack of access to basic resources, lack of access to political party lists, low salaries and discrimination in the workplace are considered as root causes of women's under-representation in economic and political decision-making. Patel suggests the importance of creating national machineries to ensure women's equal participation in all aspects of decision-making, with adequate levels of staffing and funding.
Property and Land Rights that deny women their property rights should be restricted and that care, however, has to be taken that wherever women have property in their name, men did not appropriate under the pretext of property being in joint name. She suggests that social structure and social security for women to include entitlements, access to control over economic resources, Ensuring Economic independence and risk coverage. Women can be empowered through giving property rights and land reforms to ensure land rights to women.
In order to empower themselves women must be familiar with banking operations like opening and managing their own accounts. Women with income below taxable limit should be exempted from paying stamp duties. This would be a part of affirmative action for women, the professor suggests. Therefore, Patel says, every ministry and state levels must have a women's division and it should be involved in all decision-making processes like planning, budgeting, implementing and monitoring.
"Women and child development department must be separated. This would help break the stereotype that women alone were responsible for children," she argues. And above all, there is a need to provide training and capacity building workshops for decision-makers in the government structures, village councils, parliamentarians and audio-visual media, she concludes.