31 December 2012

Tanzania: Women Need the Will to Struggle

THE poor quality of the products made by women in Zanzibar and elsewhere in the country remains a critical barrier for their development.

Women must work hard, be innovative and jack up the quality of their products. Zanzibar Deputy Minister for Trade, Industries and Marketing - Thuwaiba Kissasi - told a group of entrepreneurs in Zanzibar at the weekend that their products must be good enough to win a place in the highly competitive market.

The women had complained that their clothes, bags, shoes and other items fashioned from local materials like sisal did not attract enough customers. Well, the deputy minister had the answer for the entrepreneurs' problem - the quality of their products must be improved.

Women entrepreneurs are, however, not the only victims in this country whose welfare faces uphill tasks. Most of their counterparts in the world of work are in lowly jobs with starvation wages. Some, like domestic workers, are in virtual servitude.

Although the number of female employees in most institutions in the country is almost equal to that of their male counterparts, only a few are in decision-making positions. Most women workers hold menial jobs that do not attract good pay.

A professor with the University of Dar es Salaam, Mr Chriss Mauki, told participants at a Women Network Forum in the city a few weeks ago that most women do not appear to command enough confidence and self-esteem. So, they remain inferior to men.

But women must work hard and emancipate themselves from being vulnerable to the gender stereotypes that are deeply embedded in the societal fabric. Women are, unfortunately, affected by lack of enthusiasm and intrusive motivation. Professor Mauki says that women must have the courage to grow.

Some do not bother to think wide because they were brought up believing that big-time thoughts are reserved for men. So, traditions in most tribal settings are partially to blame for this anomaly. At the lowest rung of the working women's ladder are domestic workers most of whom are young women.

These are virtually in servitude. They slog it out for a living in private homes, bars, guest houses, hotels, shops and in the agriculture sector. Some domestic workers are not paid because they eat at their master's table. Barmaids are allowed to engage in prostitution for a fee with their patrons at the bars that also happen to have guest rooms. This is outrageous, to say the least.

While we encourage working women who have the opportunity to go up the ladder and attain decision-making positions, we call upon the state to protect women at the lowest rung of the ladder from ruthless exploitation by their employers.

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