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New constitution must recognise gender equality

31st December 2011
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Tanzanian gender activists want the new constitution to recognize the position of women in society

Tanzania is in the process of writing a new constitution. Activists, academicians, politicians, judges and ordinary citizens are all out in making sure that women are well placed in the new constitution, especially in the area of decision-making.

 

 

Recently parliament endorsed the 2011 Constitutional Bill Review which was  subsequently assented by President Jakaya Kikwete.

Basically, the writing of a new constitution is a good idea because people want to see changes in their government but if gender considerations are not taken aboard it would not be the type of constitution that Tanzanians expect.

People would like the gender aspect to feature prominently in the new constitution. This is because women are the engine of development of many countries, including Tanzania. There have also been aspects of violation of women rights in the country and as such need a way of protecting their rights. A constitution is the right place. And that is why activists are all out to ensure their goal women rights is achieved.

The involvement of women in the constitution does not mean that men should be forgotten. Women and men are all included in the gender aspects as their roles in society are important in the development process.

It is well known that the 1977 Constitution has some defects which need to be rectified, especially in the area of women in decision-making. Although some little efforts have been done to solve problems facing women in the country, some more efforts should be done on women issues.

We experience that a woman is still lagging behind in political, economical and cultural aspects. For example, we are still behind the Southern Africa Development Community goal of  50/50 percent representation in parliament and other decision-making positions.

 

In parliament, men outnumber women by far. This situation is also found in governemtn ministries and departments.

Taking an example of the Sheikh Thabit Kombo Commission, which was tasked to oversee the merger of former political parties of TANU and Afro Shiraz, had 20 people composed of  19 men and a woman.

Activists believe that if the new constitution puts gender as one of its main components it would stop the discrimination of women in the development process of the country.

In neighbouring Kenya, section 27(3) of its constitution puts men and women at equal footing politically, economically and culturally. It also abhors gender discrimination. In Uganda part six of its constitution prohibits any type of discrimination and humiliation of women. It also recognises marginalised groups and ensures that their rights are observed.

Also in Seychelles, the country has recognised the reproductive role of women and has taken steps to support them during and after delivery. The same applies to South Africa.

In Ghana when a non-citizen marries a Ghanaian woman, the man is offered citizenship with immediate effect.

 

One of the biggest hitches in the 1977 constitution is the fact that it does not mention the aspect of inclusion of women in decision-making. 

 

The constitution should strictly prohibit local traditions which do not take seriously aspects of gender violence in the country like the female genital mutilation (FGM).

Legal and Human Right Centre (LHRC) officer Anna Henga said during this year’s 16 days of opposing gender violence in the country that Tanzania should be celebrating 50 years of independence by writing new constitution which is gender-friendly.

She said gender violation incidents have been on the increase when the laws are there to prohibit them. It is strange to note that women are still being beaten and killed by their spouses and children being sexually abused.

“We should not wait for others to make decisions on our behalf and then come to regret laterthat we were not involved in the drafting of the Constitution. That is why, women and men should be involved,” Henga said.

Activist Leah Lyimo said if the process of writing new constitution would involve all people it meant that there would be solutions for problems like school girl pregnancies.

She added that the new constitution will also empower women and promote their rights like fighting against FGM and marrying school girls.

Meanwhile reports show that one among three women in the world has faced gender violence.

Tanzania Gender Network Programme Acting Managing Director Lilian Liundi said 44 percent of married women had faced gender violence by their spouses. In 2009 reports show that six children out of ten girls and boys have experienced harassment.

SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN
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