THE Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children (MoHCDGEC) is taking a lead in the reviewing of the National Gender Policy (2000) that aims to strengthen gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls in Tanzania.

This signals how development and protection of women and girls has become a major priority in the Ministry as women issues cut across all activities. On the economic front, the Department of Gender in the Ministry has put all hands on deck to ensure that the development of women becomes realistic.

Women are a pillar of Tanzania’s economy, looking at sectors including agriculture and small to medium enterprises where their presence is significant. Investing in women working in these sectors can generate billions for Tanzania and ensure an end to the feminization of poverty.

Women have come a long way and have waited far too long to see their development agenda becoming more recognised and receiving much attention at policy level. The Director for Gender in the MoHCDGEC, Mr Julius Mbilinyi explain show the agenda for Women Economic Empowerment is now one of the top priorities in the Ministry.

Q: When you talk about women economic empowerment becoming one of the key priority areas in the Ministry, what programmes are in place to make sure that women empowerment becomes a reality?

JM: There are a lot of programmes targeting women, which we are implementing in the Ministry. We are also exploring some innovations to deliver better for women and girls.If you look at the Women Economic Empowerment programme and the Women Development Fund, they all seek to support women who are concentrated in the various sectors, including the informal sector and agriculture.

The Women’s Development Fund is small right now to a capital tune of TZSh1.4 Billion, but we are exploring how to innovate a new funding modality, which we hope is going to change the way we have been approaching the empowerment of women in economic terms.

In the past we were complimenting with five percent what the local authorities raised through revenue they collected from Local Government Authorities’ (LGAs) own sources. Starting in 2019, we have amended the Local Government Finance Act and introduced principles which say four percent goes to women, another four percent to youth, and two percent to people with disabilities.

Women can access some capital from all the three categories depending on their status.

Q: Tell us more about this Women Development Fund. How is it working to improve businesses owned by women?

JM: We want to do more through the Women Development Fund and that has pushed us to innovations for us to get the results we would like to see at the end of each funding cycle. As a Ministry, we believe it’s no longer practical to say we contribute the funds from Ministry to LGAs and just leave all operations to local government; we want to be involved and see the impact on the beneficiaries.

This means elevating the Women Development Fund to Policy level. We would like to ensure that our investments are models for other interventions on women to enable replication and making sure that those we support graduate from, for example, being a small enterprise to a medium enterprise.

Our models should bring lessons for others to learn,and in the process develop a centre of excellence where women from other countries can also come and learn from us.

The Women Development Fund has been here since 1993 and in 2016 we had an evaluation which informed us of the need to change the way we were operating.

There were many suggestions, ideas and innovations with some of them suggesting that we should follow the money to see the change it was making in women’s lives.

It was not a wise idea that we were not ensuring that every cent is accounted for and reflected in the results. Based on these lessons, last year we did a pilot in Mtwara where we injected TZSh69 million into four businesses run by women.

This time around we said, we want to move away from handing out small grants and leave that to the 10 percent given by local government.

Like I said, we would like the Fund to change to a model which produces lessons to inform further improvements. We tested our idea in Mtwara around the Dangote project area, where we created a commercial hub and a value chain.

We supported two groups involved in fishing business and a horticulture enterprise.

The whole idea was to create a value chain where the three producers sold their produce to the women groups selling food to the men working on the Dangote project, women who also happened to benefit from our support.

Although the cycle is yet to be completed,there is evidence that the projects are thriving, and the prospects are positive.

Unlike in the past, we would also like to ensure there is accountability and weare putting in place an Information Technology system to ensure that we know what happened to every cent.

We will soon announce some loans to be given to one enterprise in each of the 10 districts to be selected to benefit this year. We are looking at giving out TZS 400 million in support of projects that will really transform women’s lives.

Q: You were speaking earlier on about innovation-driven programmes as the new way of working in the Ministry of Health, what should we expect this year?

JM: We have realized the importance of real time information dissemination in some of the programmes we are implementing, especially when you look at how we would like to give more support to women in business through the Women Development Fund.

As a result, this year we are introducing a website, which will act as a platform from where we can marketwomen’s products, connect them with new markets, selling and mobilising resources for them.

When we talk of resource mobilization, we are also looking at working with our ambassadors based outside the country to support the women by publicizing this website and help connect women with business opportunities.

Those who wish to support the women through the Women Development Fund will be able to easily identify the kind of businesses they would like to support or partner with.

The website will have provisions for interactions with the ambassadors, development partners, customers and potential business partners.

But also, in another innovation we have successfully partnered with UN Women to conduct community outreach for dissemination of guidelines on how women can access the Fund, the criteria for accessing, how to apply, where to apply and how to prepare the application in a simple form.

We are planning to disseminate these guidelines in all districts, and to make this happen, we are purchasing27 motorcycles for Chamwino and Mpanda Districts to support work by community development workers in awareness raising on the guidelines and also to conduct other outreach activities such as mobilizing gender groups and anti-gender-based violence awareness raising.

We have also developed strategies on how to mobilise women to form and join economic groups for them to be able to mobilise capital.

This is critical if you look at the context of Tanzania where women prefer working in groups with others found in hard to reach areas. In Kigoma for example, there are women are making good soap in small groups.

That is an advantage for us because we would like to further develop this group model into cluster formationto be able to provide support such as buying a machine that can enable bulky and quality production of soap to sell locally and for export.

 

Q: One topical area in Government at the moment is the issue of gender mainstreaming and budgeting, tell us about progress made in this area?

JM: Gender mainstreaming and budgeting work together and there should be lessons to learn to show that it is possible and the way to go.Every ministry is expected to mainstream gender in its programmes and set a budget for implementation of activities.

In that area we are working with UN Women and other partners for the new Gender Policy to support our efforts.

We would like to strengthen gender mainstreaming because from there we can discuss broader issues that affect women and men differently. “Our Goal is bigger than ourselves” because weare working every day to improve the quality of life for women and men through the gender equality lens.

Because this is very important, we do have the gender mainstreaming working group, which looks at the broader picture of aligning our work locally with the International Conventions on gender and women empowerment such as the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination (CEDAW).

Q: The Ministry has led the development of the National Plan of Action to End Violence Against Women and Children. In some quarters there are concerns over the effective implementation of the Plan, how do you respond to that?

JM: We have been working very hard to ensure that the National Plan of Action is effectively implemented, in fact, this year it is a key priority area for our attention to ensure that we have the activities tied to the Planrolled-out at different levels by variousactors.

The planhas a strong communitygender-based violence prevention programming.

Looking at the chronic nature of violence in the country where 40 percent of women age 15 - 49 have experienced physical violence and 17 percent have experienced sexual violenceas indicated in Tanzania Health and Demographic Survey of  2015/16, we need to take a Zero Tolerance approach towards  all forms of violence to reduce the numbers.

We have also reflected and saw the need to ensure that the Plan is owned at different levels including at regional and local government level.

For us, ownership of the programmes aiming to end violence is a key issue, and we are ready to partner with all organisations operating in different parts of the country in this area.

This year our focus will be on rolling-out national campaigns that would ensure that local communities are aware that they do not have to suffer in silence.

We would like all people to know where to go for various services when they experience any form of violence. Above all, we would like such services to be people-centred in terms of meeting the needs of the people.