8 March 2018

Tanzania: Closing the Gender Gap and Challenging Gender Stereotypes

Photo: pixabay
(File photo).

To achieve gender equality, stereotypes and what we think it means to be a man or a woman needs to be challenged.

One way of doing this is through representation, one of the corner stones of Sweden's feminist foreign policy.

In short this boils down to the simple objective that men and women should be represented in all parts of society.

During 2018, the Swedish Embassy in Tanzania wants to inspire debate and action on representation with two separate campaigns. It is an attempt to challenge stereotypes and spark discussions, as well as closing the gender gap in a very hands-on type of way. For us, March 2018 will be about two things: giving Tanzanian women more space and visibility on Wikipedia, as well as showcasing Tanzanian fathers in a photo exhibition.

Leading up to the International Women's Day, the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Wikimedia have therefore been collaborating with organizations and individuals all over the world to close the internet gender gap. The focus is the world's largest online and user-generated encyclopedia: Wikipedia.

In Tanzania, our starting point was to use our social media channels to inspire a discussion on which women Tanzanians felt were absent on Wikipedia - and the response was overwhelming. It was obvious that the underrepresentation is not because there is a lack of women to write about, but rather a real gap in the information available, which made this project even more important. More than 150 suggestions were submitted by Tanzanian women and men. A handful of these women were selected, and on this international women's day we will gather a group of talented Tanzanian women to write their stories; I think it is important that the stories of Tanzania are told by the people of Tanzania.

Closing the internet gender gap is important, not only because it is unfair that the accomplishments of men, and the men behind these accomplishments, get more attention; it is also a question of role models. Girls and young women need other women to look up to, all kinds of women, including scientists, entrepreneurs and successful businesswomen.

These examples need to be visible, and absence on the world's largest information platform can incorrectly create the impression that they do not exist. I am therefore very much looking forward to sharing the articles on our platforms once uploaded.

While increasing the recognition of women's accomplishments is a key factor in a more gender equal world, challenging gender stereotypes and achieving gender equality is also about men. Men need to be a part of the efforts. In short - we can't achieve gender equality if only half of the population is working for it. And we should not forget that men also have everything to gain from a broader definition on what and who a man "should" be. I believe that when the walls of these narrow boxes are torn down, individuals get more freedom. For example, freedom to choose how to engage with one of the most important aspects of their lives: their families.

And in the same way as it is important to think about how and where women are represented, like in our Wikipedia campaign mentioned above, I think it is equally important to think about how and where men are represented. When thinking of a child with a parent, most would picture a child and the mother, but where is the father in this picture? For children to grow up to become happy, productive members of society both parents are equally important.

We therefore see a need to focus on fatherhood, which is not only about men taking a financial responsibility for the home and for the children but a more active role in all aspects of raising a child. More gender equal parenting benefits everyone in the family, as well as the society. Non-violent, equality-minded, nurturing and responsible fathers are critical to assuring that the needs of children in any family all over the world are met.

We therefore want to spark a discussion on what it is to be a father with a joint photo exhibition; Swedish Dads and Tanzanian Dads. In Tanzanian Dads, Tanzanian men who think of fatherhood as something more than only paying the bills have been photographed with their children.

These stunning pictures will be on display next to photos of Swedish fathers, and I really hope they will get people talking about what being a father means. Although the Swedish and Tanzanian societies are very different, I am sure that we will see many parallels in the way that being a parent actively engaged in the upbringing of the children is immensely rewarding.

The exhibitions will be on display with free entrance at Coco Beach Hall in Dar es Salaam between March 16th and March 21st. I really encourage everyone who is in Dar es Salaam to visit!

The Embassy's activities show that in order to achieve a gender equal society we must work in many ways, on many levels, focusing on many aspects, involving both women and men. By highlighting Tanzanian women as professionals and Tanzanian men as fathers we are doing precisely that.

Katarina Rangnitt is the ambassador of Sweden to Tanzania

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