By Alpha Nuhu
THIRTY-FIVE-year old Dumangi Mhando, a first degree holder from the University of Dar es Salaam, dreams of becoming a Member of Parliament this year.
But she says her dream will never come true because she is first, a woman and second, poor.
She says she has searched for someone to connect her with women already in politics who could help mentor her, but her efforts have been in vain.
"Educated women holding prestigious positions in government and international organisations don't want to help those below them," the secondary school teacher says.
"In a country where money is becoming the governing factor in elections, poor women won't go up the political ladder," she adds. So every day Dumangi leaves her home at Ibuti, a famed sweet potato-farming village along the Morogoro- Dodoma highway, to Kibedya Secondary School where she teaches History and Geography.
"There are women like us, who really would love to join politics, but because there is no one to support us, we fail," she says. "I'm poor and, above all, a woman. I don't think anyone would support me." The mother of two says women's participation in politics is limited to voting and entertaining candidates during political rallies.
"It's always sad to see women dancing at campaign rallies and voting in large numbers, but not much is done to support these women," she says.
She explains that increasing the number of female politicians would bring women into the mainstream development process of the country. "We want change, and it is by putting women in powerful political positions that we can have such change," she says.
In the past three decades Tanzania has made great strides in the involvement of women in decision-making and political participation. New evidence is emerging of the cultural barriers to women's economic advancement, which must be addressed if the country is ever to attain its goal of gender equality.
Technological changes that have lightened the burden of housework, coupled with changing attitudes towards women in the workplace, now allow many Tanzania women to acquire an education and the relevant skills to pursue careers. Indeed, in this great East African nation, there are now many women studying at universities.
Why, then, do gender differences in economic outcomes persist? This is the fundamental question that policy makers need to address in detail. Economists have identified a fundamental reason in a phenomenon that remains pervasive: the gap in autonomy between women and men.
The immediate effects of autonomy are felt within the household - for example, in how the family budget is spent - and this is determined largely by how well either partner is likely to fare should the relationship end.
A woman's bargaining power will therefore be influenced by such factors as the type of job she has, her level of earnings and assets, the strength of her family ties, social attitudes toward divorce, laws governing the ensuing division of property, and the effectiveness of anti-discrimination legislation.
The economists say when women's bargaining power increases, the benefits to them, and to society, can be huge. Apart from being a desirable end in itself, female empowerment leads to lower birth rates and child mortality, better education for children, higher female participation in the labour market and politics, and the alleviation of poverty.
Tanzania's Father of the Nation, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, had, during his regime, tried hard to bring women into the mainstream development of the country by appointing them into higher positions in government. However, today corruption and election costs are attributed as major obstacles hampering women's participation in politics.
"There's an urgent need to address the two obstacles of corruption and election expenses so that the political ground becomes levelled for all groups in the society to play the game," says Dr Ave Maria Semakafu, a university academic. Dr Semakafu says that given the current political situation in the country where money is a determining factor in elections, it is difficult for the poor to seek elective offices.
"It's very difficult for the marginalised like women, the youth and the disabled to compete with rich people and win election because even the election costs for political party endorsement are very high," she explains. "It's high time we levelled the playground so that all the groups in the society can participate in elections and have equal representation." Tanzania will hold its general election on October 25.
More women candidates have shown interest to contest various positions. "As women we have been brought up to believe that men are our leaders," says Joyce Sangali, a nurse. "I don't expect a woman to engage in political issues." "Let's go in as women and fight," she says.
"Let us prove ourselves, stand up and be counted." President Jakaya Kikwete says no society can develop without women. If women can manage a home, what can stop them from managing the country? he asks.
He says the government supports women's participation in politics and developmental activities to benefit them. He predicts an increase in the number of women in Parliament after this year's general election.