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The unsung heroes

Faced with tough choices, African women struggle in a way that I will never know.

My first field trip confirmed to me why I am working in Tanzania – one of the world’s poorest countries. 

On the road

It’s midday and we’ve been driving for over six hours with the heat beating in on us. We’re about halfway to Mtwara, in the southern part of the country.

The sun is merciless, yet the long road is lined with people walking with heavy loads. I think about the lives of these people, in particular the women. They walk for hours with babies on their backs to get their daily water. It can be a dangerous job; women are vulnerable to sexual assault when they get to the water source on these long journeys alone.

African women

Driving along, all I can think of is that African women are incredible.

In Tanzania, women work from dawn and continue until night time. Their traditional role is to tend to their families and keep their house clean. They’re also responsible for farming their land, yet their husbands control the money from the harvest.

Too many traditional practices and beliefs leave women with few choices and in a cycle of dire poverty. Many must contend with sexual abuse, lack of education and no access to property and land.

Life lessons

We drive past a crowd. My colleague tells me that it’s “an initiation ceremony where they teach the girls and boys about life.” Intrigued, I find out the details.

I was saddened to hear that what the girls mainly learn is how to keep their men happy. Village elders – women who have lived this way their whole lives – are the teachers. For them there really is no other way. It is the reality of rural Tanzania.

An unequal society

The development of Tanzania is largely dependent on women. After all, they make up half of the population and feed the next generation. Yet their contribution to the economy and their place in Tanzanian society is too often overlooked. Watching them on their daily journeys, I become aware of their resilience and inconceivable spirit.

Concern Tanzania is working hard to instill gender equality in its programmes, with a female equality officer and programme staff who are aware of the issues. But there is a long way to go before women realise their rights and are able to participate as equal members of society. It won’t happen while I’m here, but over time we can only hope that things can change for the unsung heroes of Africa.