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Changing attitudes in rural Tanzania

I meet a woman in one of the poorest villages in Tanzania. Her name is Fatuma Ismail. She is the same age as me, 30, and has five children. She is a widow with nobody to turn to for support.

I can’t help but compare our lives. She has seen so much hardship for her years. I don’t see her smile even once. She seems hard, exhausted, jaded.

She asks if I have children. And on hearing I don’t, she says “pole sana” – she feels sorry for me. “But you have been educated; you have your own plans, your own life to live. For us, our only job is to have children and to survive.”

A lifetime of poverty

There are few options for women like Fatuma. She didn’t go to school, she can’t read or write. She’s a small-scale farmer like most of the population of Tanzania. She lives in a rural village in Mtwara, where culture and tradition act together leaving women with few rights. Here, the status quo works against poor farmers, ensuring they earn next to nothing.

Human rights watch

But then I meet a citizen’s rights group. It was set up by Concern to monitor human rights violations in Mtwara. It’s made up of four villagers who have received training on citizen’s rights.

“We never knew about these rights” said Hasani Mushante, a 45-year old man in the group.

“I now know that women have equal rights to men, including resource ownership. This is new to us, it is not something we were taught. We want more women to have this knowledge, because the culture here is too strongly in favour of men, and women work hard for nothing.”

Empowering people

Encouraging attitudes that contradict culture, tradition and religion is extremely difficult, especially in rural areas. But by simply giving people knowledge of laws that protect the rights of citizens, poor villagers are empowered to change their own behaviour and demand their rights.

Finding a voice

I see positive results in village after village as I talk to the men and women on this issue. They are reporting less marriage breakdowns. There are less land conflicts because of the new knowledge of laws protecting the rights of women to resources.

Women are finding their voice. More women than ever before are nominating themselves for village council leadership in the local elections

It’s just the beginning but it proves that, with knowledge, attitudes are capable of change.