12 October 2015

My first meeting as a member of PC TZ’s USAWA committee (Unified Sexes Achieving a Wealth of Awareness – the gender and development committee here) went quite well this past weekend. We met in Dar, a place with good food but way too much humidity. I’m glad to be getting back to my village soon in the pleasantly cool Southern Highlands.

The meeting was a great space for us to share ideas about our perceptions of gender in Tanzania. I am still developing my understanding of gender roles here, and I’m sure I’ll continue to do so for the rest of my service. To generalize, I can say a male’s role in the village is to be the decision maker, to have the final say, to use the resources provided in whatever way he sees fit. A female’s role is to run the household and the family behind the scenes, fetching the water, providing the meals, and keeping the children on track. The women see and know the details of every day life – the necessities and the aspects that need to keep functioning in order for her family to survive.

The men in their role in the community are often blind to a great many aspects of everyday life, and therefore, their reality can be severely warped, causing them to make decisions that do not take necessary aspects of a situation into account. This can be devastating when it comes to development work in the village. Most often, the men’s voices ring out the strongest, they decide what the village needs; they speak for everyone. Women are often beaten (sometimes quite literally) into a submissive role, making them scared to voice their very valuable opinions.

This means that when it comes to development, the choices made to help better the community are generally extremely one-sided. Development work may fail in the end because it failed to consider the opinions, knowledge, and understanding about everyday life that women can bring to the table. In order for development to be successful, both men’s and women’s opinions need to be voiced and considered.

The reason the USAWA committee exists is to help PVCs work in a society with rather strict gender roles. We focus on youth empowerment programs, for both boys and girls, because the hope for any sort of change associated with gender relationships will come from the new generation of youth. We want to encourage a transformation of perception, to help youth see and understand the value of the opposite gender. For more information, check out the USAWA blog – https://usawatanzania.wordpress.com/

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