International Women’s Day (IWD), originally tagged as ‘International Working Women’s Day’, has been celebrated around the world, each year on March 8th, since the early 1900’s and has been celebrated in many different ways. In some areas of the world it is in fact a National Holiday and in others, it is a day where women are celebrated in a similar way to that of Mothers Day and/ or Valentines Day (or corporate love day to you and me). For many it can be a day of celebration of Women and the Girl Child as well as a chance to highlight the continued issues still faced by Women and Girls across the Globe.
My first interaction with IWD wasn’t until I got to University, whilst I had come across it before, only briefly, I wasn’t really sure what it meant in general and for me. At Uni, I got involved, as many do, with student politics and actually started the first Women’s Group; together we organised events, raised awareness of issues such as health, Domestic and Sexual Violence, to name but a few. One year, as a celebration of IWD, we performed the Vagina Monologues (http://www.vday.org/about ) an incredible book written by one of my idols, Eve Ensler. This was a wonderful celebration and awareness raising event of women from all over the world and from that day on, I was hooked with IWD. Each year I would do something to celebrate with my fellow sisters; whether this be through music, art and poetry or taking to the streets of Central London and marching alongside empowering and inspiring women for Million Women Rise (http://www.millionwomenrise.com/ ) whatever was going on I was sure to be there…
So you can imagine my excitement when, for the first time, since I found this wonderful event, I am actually in another country to celebrate my fave time of the year…it was time to celebrate all things women and raise awareness of the cause, here in Tanzania…
As my VSO placement here is with UN Women (UNW) and currently supporting a Tanzanian Women’s Organisation, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend several different kinds of events. First up, a couple of lunch time seminars one on the Constitutional Review, currently ongoing here and its impact on Gender followed by one on Gender Responsive Budgeting which was delivered by Mary Rusimbi, the ED at the project I am working with through UNW. Both sessions were fantastic, esp for a political geek like myself…learning how other countries, within Africa, have taken on the task of Constitutional reform and how Tanzania can learn and improve on past mistakes was truly insightful and to see how important Gender Main-streaming is for Parliaments to ensure they’re aiming towards a Gender Equal society gave me a lot of food for thought.
In addition to the seminars I also attended a VSO event in collaboration with the Canadian High Commission and the University of Dar es Salaam’s Gender department. Held at the National Museum in town there were 4 key female speakers all sharing their inspiring stories of how they got to where they’re today, including a fellow VSO/CUSO vol, Michelle who gave a fantastic speech and had the audience captured by her experiences. What I loved about this event was that it was aimed at the youth. There were about four schools present; girls and boys all keen to learn and celebrate Intentional Women’s Day.
Students from a local school line up to enter the auditorium a chorus of ‘Poa’ in respsonse to my ‘Mambo’ was wonderful! (a phrase used by many of the youth as a greeting)
The theme for this event was; ‘Youth momentum in Gender; Be the Change!’ Which couldn’t have been more true. Here in Tanzania the Youth make up over half the population and are therefore a key group when it comes to decision making and supporting the next generation of leaders. What was wonderful about this event was seeing how engaged each member of the audience was; listening attentively to each speaker and making notes on how perhaps one day that could be them up on the stage.
After all the speeches there was time for a Q+A which really highlighted the ‘Youth Momentum’; hands were going up everywhere and not just from the young women but also the young men; with one student asking a crucial question on sexual bribes something which is now being called Sextortion and an issue which research is starting to show is on the rise here. Instead of monetary bribes the suggestion of sex as a bribe is on the increase. I was so impressed to hear him ask about this and put the discussion out there, showing real concern for his sisters in the room and asking how this could impact on them. He truly is a leader, not of tomorrow but of now and certainly has a bright future ahead of him.
A future leader
As I mentioned before, the beauty, for me, of International Women’s Day is also about getting together with like minded people and celebrating women and girls. The University of Dar es Salaam had also got several students together to help out at the event which was great as I got to meet Sophia, a young Tanzanian woman studying her MA in Gender Studies. Her passion, commitment and dedication for the cause was wonderful and like the young man in the audience she too can be the change and have a great future.
Sophia welcoming guests
Finally on Friday March 8th, officially International Women’s Day, I attended my final event of the week; the Tanzanian Première of ‘Half The Sky’ (http://www.halftheskymovement.org/) organised by UN Women and partner organisations all working on the issue of Gender. Half The Sky is a fantastic documentary series shot across 10 different countries highlighting various issues from FGM, Prostitution and Women’s Economic Empowerment to name a few. Due to the length (4 hours in total) we only viewed two of the documentaries; one shot in Somaliland looking at the impact FGM has on women and girls and the second in Indian around the issue of prostitution where girls are being exploited from as young as 9. Both documentaries were incredibly shocking but sadly not surprising – these are issues which occur daily for women and girls across the Globe however, this can change. What the documentaries show you is the fantastic work of local women who are striving, daily, to make a safer space for women and girls so they don’t have to suffer, they don’t have to sell their bodies in order to feed themselves and their families but actually they can and are receiving an education and aspiring to be the change.
Following the documentaries there were discussions led by a panel of youth from the University all of whom had insightful views on how we can take this forward and not just talk but act.
People say that Women and Girls can and will be the change and future leaders of tomorrow but what I have learnt not just in this last week of celebration and education but over the last 7 months, is that Women and Girls ARE the change and ARE the leaders of NOW, TODAY and the FUTURE…
There is a wonderful African Proverb that says; ‘Educate a man and you educate one person; educate a woman and you educate a whole Nation.’
Members of VSO Tanzania and UNW