13 January 2013

Tanzania: Human Rights, Professionalism Remain Tamwa's Commitment


MS Valerie Msoka took over the helm of the Tanzania Media Women Association (TAMWA) and the Executive Director, overseeing the day-today operations of the association's secretariat.

Having been exposed to the international arena in the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and the United Nations (UN) for more than 20 years, she looks forward to bring the association to higher levels of success. She granted this interview to Staff Writer ICHIKAELI MARO recently. Excerpts...

 You took over the leadership of one of the most vibrant professional media associations in the country. How are you set to take up this challenging responsibility?

I guess I was given the post because the interview panel was convinced I could deliver for the benefit of TAMWA. And as much as one might be set to take on a challenge, the reality is usually different. However, I come in with the determination to deliver to the best of my ability and with the support of the association's secretariat, the governing board and members. I believe I will handle the challenges that come with and are part of the office that I have taken up.

 You still remember the objectives of establishing the association. What are they? Are they still relevant today? How?

We had a number of objectives but I will mention a few. Using the journalism profession (pen and microphones, camera) to advocate for women and children's rights by educating, mobilizing and pressurizing for cultural, policy and legal changes in the society by effectively using our profession.

By using the media skills, we intend to continue to contribute to the development of this country by strategically engaging with stakeholders in the development process. Our focus, as it has been the case, is to the visibility of women, children and the marginalized groups in our society.

Other objectives include; promoting the concerns of women in all fields through the combined efforts of women media professionals. Improving skills of media women through training both locally and abroad. To encourage more women to join the journalism profession and access senior positions in media institutions.

These objectives are still relevant today. There is recognition of Gender Based Violence (GBV) in our society, but it still exists and therefore more effort is needed in addressing that. Tanzania is a developing country so we still need to contribute to its development by highlighting relevant issues to be tackled to enhance development. And look at the media scene.

While there has been advancement there are still not enough women in senior positions. Who still heads the media institutions? Look at the news and programmes, what are the stories that feature women and what of those that feature men? Twenty five years on since the inception of TAMWA, the questions are still the same.

There is still an imbalance in women representation in the top media positions (with a good representation at senior and middle levels) and in the coverage of women and women issues. It is enough proof for the relevance of establishing TAMWA and its continued presence.

 You still remember the objectives establishing the association. Are the objectives still relevant today? Why?

Same as 2 above

TAMWA is more involved in using the media to champion gender equality, women empowerment and children rights? Doesn't this divert you from the original objectives establishing the association?

Why do you think so? Championing gender equality, women empowerment and children's rights is still part of advocating for women and children's rights by educating, mobilizing and pressurizing for cultural, policy and legal changes in the society by effectively using our profession.

Many of the clients you serve are the maginalised rural dwellers but, like most Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) you are urbanbased? Are you sure you are giving them fair deal?

One has to start somewhere. I recently went to Mara and Shinyanga and journalists there posed the same question to me. And it is not TAMWA only which is based in Dar es Salaam. Most of the media outlets are based in Dar es Salaam, dispatching their reporters to regions when an important event occurs.

I can tell you journalists in the regions are very disappointed about this, especially when the reporters based in Dar es Salaam rely on their colleagues in the regions to accomplish their assignments. In their own opinion, they are equally capable what they need is empowerment to excel just like their colleagues in Dar es Salaam.

TAMWA started in Dar es Salaam. What we have to do now is to see how we can reach those you call marginalized rural dwellers. Having said that, TAMWA has, with the cooperation of the media houses, done a lot of reports on issues in rural areas. I know that is not enough and that a physical presence in the regions is what is needed.

That means TAMWA has to reach out to the journalists in the regions so that they become the branches that reach the rural areas. We will work towards that.

You are one of founders of the association. But you have been out of the country for more than 20 years. Hasn't this put you out of touch with the functions of the association?

Does it mean that when you travel you cut off links with your family? Yes I have been away, but like any journalist or one who is passionate about her country, I have kept abreast with what had been happening in Tanzania. I have kept in touch with people both at a professional and personal level. I have also been to Tanzania nearly every year for the past six years while I was working in Sudan and Iraq. I also believe that even if I have lost touch, TAMWA is a support-base in itself that will soon have me grounded.

What added value, do you think you will bring to the association, especially after having that international exposure?

Anyone who takes on a new responsibility adds value - of course the value might be questionable. Having said that, in the years that I have been away I have worked in two international organizations - the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and the United Nations (UN) - in the former as a Producer and News Writer.

In the latter I worked as Communications Specialist. Both were challenging but were opportunities where I gained knowledge and experience. I, thus, bring to TAMWA skills, commitment and perseverance. I also bring in the need for positive developmental change that made me to be among the 12 women journalists who founded TAMWA in 1987. I was working with Radio Tanzania Dar es Salaam (RTD) by then, now the Tanzania Broadcasting Corporation (TBC) as a broadcaster.

TAMWA has, of late, been criticized of diverting from its original objectives establishing it to something else. Are you aware of these criticisms? What is your opinion?

I have heard of these criticisms and I believe people are free to criticize. But please be aware too that people can have their own perceptions on how they see things. A few months back the parliamentary committee for the Ministry of Community Development, Gender and Children visited TAMWA.

The committee informed TAMWA that it felt diverting from its original objectives and explained why they thought so. I believe that criticism is good as it can take you out of your comfort zone. Criticism is also good when it is constructive or comes with the way forward. That is what I would like to hear.

The association, like many Civil Society Organisations, is heavily donor-dependent to run its operations. With the donor fatigue biting, do you see the sustainability of the organisation?

That is something that TAMWA has to work towards. I am sure when we put our heads together as members, we will succeed in sustaining the association. It is not something that can be thought of in a day but because all the members are professionals we have all heard about this donor fatigue and we will, no doubt, be forward thinking.

Do you see the need to revisit the mission statement from the not-for-profit to a profit making entity? Is this option visible? How?

The thing that worries me is that we might lose our objectives and become focused on getting profits. What we are currently doing is inform and transform the society through our profession. There is still a need to do so.

There might creep in a compromise when profit becomes our objective. But there are options because TAMWA is a collective pool of talents. The question is, how can we use these talents to sustain the organization? We also have a number of assets - can they help us sustain the association?

What of member contributions - can we raise them? What about fund raising activities - with the success that TAMWA has and its contribution to change, I am sure people will contribute to any fundraising activity that we plan to do. Therefore, the options are there, we need to find out which will fit us in the short, medium and long term measure.

 Is there a lesson you could learn from your predecessors? Any plans to take a different approach to issues from them? Why?

TAMWA is recognized and respected. The criticisms you speak of are part of being recognized and respected. My predecessors have built a good rapport with the media houses. They have made inroads on Gender Based Violence (GBV) issues and other matters of Women Empowerment.

They had done a commendable job. I cannot wholly take their approach becauseI am a different person, nor you take mine because the approach will be intrinsically linked to me as Valerie with my load. What I can do is work on the approaches they have used in tackling issues and build on the foundation that they have built. The aim is to move TAMWA to another or different level. And the one who comes after me will continue doing so with her own approach.

What has the association achieved that you wish sustained?

The bringing of issues to the forefront. The commitment to have a society that respects human rights with a gender perspective must continue to be our priority. Through its interaction with partners and media houses, with the journalists and the people in the regions, with the support of international organizations, TAMWA has been in the forefront of the transformation in the country. This is commendable and I would wish to sustain this.

 Any plans for senior members of the association?

You have to explain who the senior members are and those who are junior members as I believe there is no membership hierarchy within the organization.

How do you see TAMWA in the, say, 20 years from now?

Twenty five years after its inception TAMWA is a household name in the country and beyond. This is what we should build on. At the moment we need to make a success of the current 2009 - 2014 strategic plan which addresses gender based violence against women and children, working towards gender equality, working to alleviate poverty among women and promoting women's health.

Success in implementing this strategy will consolidate our position as an important stakeholder in the overall development of Tanzania. I won't be here in 20 years time, but it is important to lay a strong foundation for those who will take the TAMWA mantle for the coming years.......and should they at that time acknowledge what we have done, then we would have played our part.

Are you comfortable with the current structure of the association?

The thing is, nothing is set in stone. As an organization TAMWA has evolved, which is part of a growing process. So I am sure it will continue to grow in terms of structure, strategy and numbers. The Annual General Meeting (AGM) is the supreme decision making body in all matters regarding the discharge of rights and duties of the members and organs of the association. Whatever the change, it has to be approved by all members.

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