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60 Years of Independence – The Progressive Participation Of Women In Parliament

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Thursday, November 11th, 2021
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“A WOMAN with a voice is, by definition, a strong woman”, from ‘Women Quotes’ by Belinda Gates. And I venture to suggest that Parliament is, manifestly, the most appropriate forum that gives women ‘an effective voice’ in Tanzania

A historical synopsis.

Women in Tanzania have always contributed significantly to the country’s democratic process through their active participation. However, essentially, they have done so more as voters in elections, not as elected leaders.

They have played a much greater role as economic producers, and providers of strong stability for the household at the family level.

There are certain cultural constraints that have largely prevented their meaningful participation in seeking representation in Parliament.

Fortunately, however, as we shall see below, because of the political dominance by TANU during the early post-independence years, and under the benevolent leadership of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, women candidates were able to participate successfully in the pre-independence general election of 1960 and became members of the Tanganyika Legislative Council.

This success was achieved mainly because they were elected unopposed in their respective constituencies; for the simple reason that the other political parties had failed to field their candidates. But, during the subsequent truly competitive general elections, starting from 1965 to 1975; there were no women MPs who got elected from any of the constituencies.

Those few who entered Parliament went in either through nomination by the President; or by designated Organizations and Institutions. Some success returned in the 1970 general election, when one-woman Member of Parliament (MP), Ms Lucy Lameck, was elected from Moshi constituency.

Thereafter, their number progressively increased to sixteen in the 2005 general election. In its efforts to remedy the situation, the Government took steps in 1984, to make appropriate constitutional amendments which introduced a new category of seats designated as “Women’s special seats”, being a specified percentage of the total number of the available parliamentary seats, starting with 15% in the first multiparty general election of 1995.

These seats were to be allocated to the political parties which participated in the relevant election, in proportion to the number of seats obtained by each of them. This percentage figure was progressively raised to “not less than 30% for the 2005 and subsequent general elections.

And for the 2010 and subsequent elections, an additional constitutional provision was made which requires the President, when making nominations to fill the 10 parliamentary seats which are reserved for that purpose, to ensure that five of his nominees will be women.

Women participation in Parliament

I have chosen ‘the progressive participation of women in Parliament” as our subject for discussion in today’s article, for a number of very good reasons.

The primary and most compelling reason was President Samia Suluhu Hassan’s speech, which she delivered at the climax of week-long commemorative celebrations that had been organized by the Chama cha Mapinduzi Women’s wing (UWT), in commemoration of the life of Bibi TitI Mohamed, the first and founder Chairperson of that Organization.

The said event was held on Saturday 23rd October, 2021, which was attended by a mammoth gathering of women assembled at Ikwiriri in Rufiji District; at which President Samia tasked UWT: “to work with other relevant Organizations to prepare a comprehensive report that profiles the Government’s contribution in liberating Tanzania’s women politically, socially, and economically over the last six decades”.

The President was, in effect, urging the women organization to collect and assemble all relevant information relating to the women’s political, social and economic advancement and progress over the post-independence period of sixty years. This is what made me feel, as a writer, that I could perhaps make some useful contribution to these efforts by profiling the Government’s contribution thereto, with regard to the progressive participation of Tanzania women in Parliament, And that, is the subject of today’s article.

Bibi Titi Mohamed was the first woman to participate actively and wholeheartedly, in the country’s political liberation movement spearheaded by TANU, under the leadership of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere.

She was also among the first few elected women members of the first post-independence Parliament, (1960 – 1965), representing Rufiji Constituency. The other women MPs of that first Parliament, with their constituency names in brackets, were:- Marion Lady Chesham (iringa); Babro Johansen (mwanza); E. Markwada (Tanga Urban); Sophia Mustapha (Arusha); and Mwami Thereza Ntare (Kasulu). There are two other factors that influenced the choice of today’s discussion topic, namely:

(a) the announcement by the Africa Region of the Commonwealth women parliamentarians; of their intention to hold a ‘sensitization seminar’ in Dar es Salaam in mid- October 2021 (but was postponed); for the purpose of assessing the current status regarding the implementation of one of the principal objectives of that organization, which is “to promote the representation of women in commonwealth Parliaments of the Africa Region”. My wife Anna Abdallah had been invited to make a presentation thereat; and

(b) my own direct experience of the process which has been taking place in relation thereto, through a series of constitutional amendments which were introduced in Parliament at specified intervals, in order to give legal effect to the said process. In that particular respect, I was a direct witness of this process during the first post-independence decade (1961- 1970) when I was the Clerk of the National Assembly; and subsequently as Deputy Speaker and later Speaker of the National Assembly during the fourth and fifth decades thereof (1990 – 2005.

Women in the Parliament of Tanzania

We have already seen above, the shortlist of elected women parliamentarians in the first post-independence Parliament. However, for the purpose of giving a complete picture of this record, we will travel ‘down memory lane, back to the beginning of women’s participation in the colonial Legislative Council, that was inaugurated following the coming into force of the Tanganyika ( Legislative Council) Order-in-Council, which was issued on 19th March 1926. But it was not until 1955 when the first three women members were nominated by the Governor to join that Council, who took the oath of office on 19th April 1955.

They were: Elifuraha Mkamangi Marealle; K.F. Walker; and S. Keeka. Two years later In 1956, a fourth woman Member, Mary Kashindi was nominated; and in 1958, Bertha Akim, and J. Davies were also nominated.

The independence Parliament (1960 – 1965), was dominated by members who had been elected on a TANU ticket, and brought into the Legislative Council the women Members already mentioned above, namely:- Marion Lady Chesham (Iringa); Babro Johansen (Mwanza); E. Markwada (Tanga Urban); Titi Mohamed (Rufiji); Sophia Mustafa (Arusha); Mwami Thereza Ntare (Kasulu); plus two nominated members: Lucy S. Lameck; and Cecilia Paes.

The “Legislative Council” was re-designated the “National Assembly” on 1st May 1961; and became the “Parliament of Tanganyika” (Bunge), upon the attainment of the country’s independence on 9th December 1961. The Second Parliament (1965 – 1970), brought into Parliament, the following elected and nominated women MPs:- Violet M. Baraka (Njombe Kusini); Lucy S. Lameck (Moshi); (Mboni Cheka (national seat); Pili Khamis (Zanzibar Revolutionary Council); and Mwinchum Vuai (Zanzibar Revolutionary Council). Jokha Mohamed Selemani (nominated).

The establishment of the Union between Tanganyika and Zanzibar in April 1964, caused a major constitutional change to be made, through the enactment of the Union’s interim Constitution.

A new Constitution was necessary, in order to make appropriate provision for the representation of Zanzibar in the Parliament of the United Republic.

This requirement introduced an unusually large number of nominated MPs from Zanzibar, simply because elections in Zanzibar had been banned by President Abeid Amani Karume.

Thus the only way to bring representatives from Zanzibar into the Union Legislature, was through nomination by the President. Hence, the 1965 Constitution made provision for 32 members of MPS to be nominated from among members of the Zanzibar Revolutionary Council; plus 20 other persons also nominated from Zanzibar.

However, presumably due to the inevitable cultural constraints, this increase in numbers was not accompanied by a corresponding increase in the number of women representatives.

This Constitution also made provision for “15 “national members”, who were to be elected by the National Assembly from a list of candidates submitted to it by certain specified Organizations and Institutions; these Organizations included UWT, which was tasked to nominate only women candidates for that election.

This increased the representation of women in Parliament by at least those five “national members”. and also carried forward the provision for Regional Commissioners to become ex-officio MPs. This provision enabled the first-ever woman Regional Commissioner to enter Parliament, a small but welcome addition to the women’s ‘voice’ inside Parliament.

The subsequent Parliaments (1970 – 1980) brought into the House, at different times, a progressively increasing number of elected and nominated women MPs, who included the following:- Lucy S. Lameck (Moshi); Mboni Cheka (National seats); Pili Khamis (Zanzibar Revolutionary Council); Mwinchum Vuai (Zanzibar Revolutionary Council); Julie C. Manning (nominated); Thabitha Siwale (nominated); Anna Abdalah (ex-officio) as Regional Commissioner; Tabu M. Ali (nominated); Mtumwa Borafia (nominated); Margsret Choggo (national seat); Anna Kabati (nominated); Fatma Hamza Mjanakheri (Zanzibar Revolutionary Council); Anna Namilikwa (national seat); Mkuja Suleiman Khamis (nominated).

The constitutional amendments which introduced the special category of “Women special seats”; also increased progressively the number of women representatives in the Tanzania Parliament, from the initial 15% of the total number of MPs, to the current 30%, who were to be nominated by political parties in accordance with a ‘proportional representation’ electoral formula, and appointed to Parliament by the National Electoral Commission.

These are, briefly, the efforts that have been invested by the Government of the United Republic of Tanzania in the project of “liberating Tanzania women politically”, by giving them a strong ‘voice’ in Parliament. “A woman with a voice is, by definition, a strong woman”.

Mwalimu Nyerere’s personal contribution

Those who have closely followed the late Mwalimu Nyerere’s life and his leadership career will surely remember his relentless efforts to eliminate all forms of “exploitation of man by man”, and discrimination of all types and shapes, in order to create a just society. In most of his speeches and writings, Nyerere always expressed his strong belief in ‘the equality of all human beings, regardless of gender, race, or creed’.

One of his earliest writings was a prize-winning essay titled “The Plight of African women”, which he wrote in 1942 when he was a student at Makerere College in Kampala, Uganda; in which he highlighted the hardships and miseries facing women who, he said, “worked almost like slaves”; and strongly condemned the tribal customs which appear to facilitate this situation.

And much later in 1967, he wrote the following in the famous Arusha Declaration policy document:- “It is true that within our traditional society; ill-treatment, and enforced subservience, are the women’s lot” . . . If we want our country to make full and quick progress, it is essential to enable our women to live on terms of full equality with their fellow citizens, who happen to be men”.

“Women’s development” is an international agenda.

The fact that ‘Women development’ is an international agenda is manifested by the allocation by the United Nations General Assembly, of a particular day in each year, namely the 8th day of March, that is observed globally as “International Women’s Day”.




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