By Geneviève Rose*
March 13, 2020.- Agnes Karao Mgema, from the Parakuyo patoralists group in Tanzania, took the floor. She is the chair of Nalepo, a community based organisation that has mobilised their community to support girls from families that failed to take them to school, as well as those who were forced to drop out and get married.
Agnes is meeting with other Indigenous women across Tanzania, Kenya and Cameroon. She is passionate in her message of what Nalepo has been able to do for women and girls in her community.
The situation for Indigenous women in Tanzania is very similar to that of Indigenous women in other African countries: they are excluded from decision making in the family, community and in local and national governments; they have no right to property ownership; they suffer from traditional harmful practices such as early marriage and female genital mutilation; and they do not have access to school.
Yet they are very strong, united and full of self-initiative. Together they are capable of standing up for their rights and bringing change in their communities.
Last week, I participated in a meeting organised by our partner PAICODEO in Morogoro, Tanzania as part of a project IWGIA is implementing, with the support of Comic Relief UK, helping to raise the voices and needs of Indigenous women in Africa and Asia.
I met with strong community women, like Agnes, from across Tanzania, including from the Morogoro, Costal and Manyara regions, and Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The women met in Morogoro to share their challenges, aspirations and visions, as well as to reinforce their movement. Our partners from Kenya – the Samburu Women Trust (SWT) – and Cameroon – the African Indigenous Women Organization-Central African Network (AIWO-CAN) – were also there to learn and share their own experiences.
The room was full of determined and enthusiastic women ready to unite their forces so that the new generation of girls in their community can enjoy human rights and gender equality. They wanted their girls to go to school. They wanted empowerment and financial independence. They were tired of domestic violence, early pregnancy and of not having a voice when decisions were taken in their family, villages and country.
Agnes was one of those women in the room.
She said that thanks to the small-grant Nalepo has received through the IWGIA's project, they were able to support girls from her community to attend secondary school. The other women listened attentively to her and react to her presentation in different ways – they laugh, they applaud, they are sometimes outraged by the stories Agnes is sharing with them; but mostly, they are impressed by what Nalepo is doing and what they have already achieved with the small grant.
Some of the women in the room will also apply for small grants and are getting inspired by Agnes.
Agnes also explains that with a part of the grant they received, they bought some cows. The intention is to resell the cows in a few months for a profit. Parakuiyo women are normally not allowed to own cows, but they have found ways around the customary rules and use some allied men to help them in the transaction. To own cows gives these women a special status in their community. It gives them financial power and a voice; they can now speak out and men are listening to them. With the profit they will make, they will be able to support more girls to attend secondary school.
Women came out of this meeting with renewed energy and new ideas. The small grants made available by the project will give some of them a chance to become more empowered in their community to make decisions and to be treated with respect. Together they will build a movement that will bring change in their communities, but also nationally and internationally.
However, Agnes’ story, and those of the other women, will not just stay in Tanzania; they will travel to international fora and will feed into the global Indigenous women movement, lobbying for stronger international recognition and protection of their rights.
Hawe Bouba, president of the AIWO-CAN and expert member of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights, also participated in the meeting and is bringing Agnes’ and the other women’s messages to key mechanisms such as the United Nations and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
This year, the international community will be discussing the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and platform for actions (Beijing+25). This pivotal document for the empowerment of women around the world is now being reviewed and Indigenous women have to be a part of this process; their issues have to be included in the revision.
Hawe will make sure that the messages she received from Indigenous women in Tanzania will come up in the discussion. She will also consolidate the findings that were made during two previous regional meetings in 2019 on Beijing +25, one in Cameroon and one in Kenya, involving many stakeholders from all around Africa.
*Signe Leth is IWGIA Senior Advisor on regional human rights mechanisms and gender