Dar es Salaam — Women's rights groups in Tanzania are demanding that a new constitution clearly define the word 'person' to mean a man and a woman in a bid to promote gender equality.
The groups have also suggested significant changes in the electoral systems with the aim to give women more political presence in a new constitution whose draft was presented in June this year for public scrutiny.
Debating the proposed law at a meeting organised recently by the Tanzania Women Cross Party Platform (TWCPP), in the town of Bagamoyo, representatives from the groups said the draft constitution in its present form overlooked important gender elements.
Anna Abdallah, the chairwoman of the group, said that the draft constitution is gender blind since it does not expressly recognise the roles of a man and a woman.
"The constitution should define the word 'person' because in some communities people believe a person is a man and not a woman," she said.
She observed that although article 46 of the draft constitution guarantees some women's rights it doesn't fully address the issues that affect women
"We do not want only one article explaining everything about gender, we need them covered broadly in the constitution," she said.
Women's rights activists among other things, are lobbying for a 50-50 representation of women in Tanzania politics, the right to own land and widow's right to inherit property and protection against gender -based violence.
Ruth Meena, from Women Fund Tanzania said gender equality was an important issue in the new constitution because without it women would still be oppressed.
Citing Article 93 of the draft constitution, which gives the president the power to appoint ministers and deputy ministers, Meena said such a clause did not consider gender since it does not oblige the president to appoint an equal number of men and women.
Analysts said that although the current constitution guarantees equality between men and women, it does not address many challenges that women face in their lives.
"Women still face a lot of problems in economic empowerment and lack of access to decision-marking organs, there are many laws and customary practices that remain discriminatory against women," said Usu Mallya, the Executive director of Tanzania Gender Networking Programme.
She said the government needs to put in place legal and policy arrangements that would facilitate equal participation of women in top leadership positions.
"A democratic constitution must acknowledge substantive gender equality and collective voices of men and women,"she said.
Mallya observed that while Tanzania is likely to achieve the MDG target on gender, high school dropout rates for girls and gender parity in secondary and tertiary education fall short. .
The activists also pointed out other shortfalls, especially setting a minimum age for girls' marriage.
According to Ananilea Nkya, the former executive director of Tanzania Women's Media Organisation (TAMWA), women's dignity must be respected and protected regardless of race, religion, ethnicity or disability.
"We need a new constitution that will give women the right and access to ownership of land and benefit from the natural resources that the country is endowed with," she said.
Women groups are also calling for the new constitution to clearly specify basic education as both primary and secondary education, since most girls are often denied the right to education. - (Thomson Reuters Foundation)