At 72 years, Hon Anna Margareth Abdallah has an enormous of experience as a Member of Parliament (MP). She has had eight terms of five years each in Tanzania's Parliament and is still a member of the house which she first entered when she was 32.
She was a Minister of State for 19 years and is now chairperson of the Tanzania Women Cross-Party Platform which is a coalition of female politicians in Tanzania.
Over the years, she has found out that a major trump card for promoting women's participation is to make women accept their fellow women. So, instead of agreeing with the saying that "women are their own enemies", the Tanzanian veteran MP has led women to turn this saying on its head and now say: "A woman's friend is a woman."
This rather more positive saying has turned the fortunes of women in that country around and it has been adopted as the official slogan of the Tanzania Women Cross-Party Platform.
So when Hon Abdallah was in Ghana recently to share the Tanzanian experience with some Ghanaian women MPs and parliamentary candidates, she seized the opportunity to stress that it was imperative to make the woman feel strongly that her friend is her fellow woman.
She described networking among women politicians and organisations within and beyond national borders as "essential". Hon Abdallah was addressing a two-day workshop for more than 20 women, comprising MPs, parliamentary candidates and party executives drawn from the four political parties with representation in Ghana's Parliament.
Representatives from the National Democratic Congress (NDC), New Patriotic Party (NPP), Convention People's Party (CPP) and People's National Convention (PNC) converged at Akosombo, Eastern Region, on 28 and 29 January under the auspices of the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) with support from the European Union (EU), Demofinland and the European Partnership for Democracy.
The occasion was also used to launch a women's manual titled: Strategies for increasing the Representation of Women in National Governance - Commitments by the Political Parties.
"The Manual, which was prepared by the leadership and Women's wings of the four Political Parties with representation in Parliament, and with input from various civil society organizations and women advocacy groups, contains effective strategies to ensure an increase in women's participation in Parliament and in national governance as a whole," said Mrs Jean Mensa, Executive Director of the IEA.
She stressed that the participation and representation of women in national governance was a key tenet of "a functional democracy", adding, "Indeed, women's participation in governance has been established at the highest levels of international policy to be critical to equity, equality and development in any society."
Supporting Mrs Mensa's assertions, Hon Abdallah stated that "Democracy is about inclusion of all, for equal participation," and therefore, it is "clear that democratization that fails to incorporate a gender perspective and impact of certain groups in a given society is a flaw."
Having emphasised the importance of women in governance, the MP gave highlights of the performance of women in Tanzania in the country's democratic process. Tanzania's population is estimated to be 43 million, out of which 51.1% are women. In terms of representation, 126 (36.6%) out of the country's 323 MPs are women. Added to this is the fact that the country now has its first female Speaker of Parliament. On the executive front, 7 (26%) out of the country's 27 Ministers of State are women. In terms of ambassadors, there are four women among the 32 ambassadors. In the Judiciary, women make 25 (slightly above 33%) of the 72 high court judges.
"Political will and commitment of Government leadership towards gender equality have been instrumental for achievements made so far," Hon Abdallah told her Ghanaian counterparts. She further explained, "Since independence, the Government of the United Republic of Tanzania, has committed itself towards achieving gender equality and equity and enhance women's empowerment through various initiatives."
Nonetheless, there remain some herculean barriers in the Tanzanian political setting, including the culture of male supremacy. For instance, in all the 18 registered political parties, the three top positions - chair, vice chair and secretary general - are occupied by men.
In addition, the non-institutionalisation of gender equality and equity, as well as the electoral system of first-pass-the-post or winner takes all are major barriers to the promotion of women's active participation in politics.
For her Ghanaian listeners and admirers, Tanzanian women should be proud of their record. It was, therefore, surprising to many of them to hear Hon Margareth Abdallah conclude that: "The facts above indicate that Tanzania has a long way to go in the area of gender equality in decision making."
Date Updated: Tuesday | February 7, 2012