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Women: Pathways to Empowerment in Tanzania

Women’s pathways to empowerment are determined by different combinations of factors. To trace such pathways, World Bank teams asked women in Tanzania and the Republic of Yemen (among others) to place 100 representative women from their community on different steps on a fictional “ladder of power and freedom”— with the top step for women with the most power and the bottom for those with the least. They were also asked to repeat this ranking to reflect where the women would have been on the ladder 10 years ago.

Bukoba, Tanzania

“A woman who is powerful is called omukazi [powerful woman]. I think most of us here are powerful women. Yes, women have always moved up. I was married, and I really suffered with my husband. When I left him, it is when I started doing my things and I am now very fine: I can get what I want; I can do what I want; I take my children to school.”

For women in Bukoba, social capital has been the key element. The community has a good array of organizations helping women, and 33 percent of the local council members are female. Women recognize the value of their networks:

“We have these self-help groups, we meet there and talk about so many things that happen in our lives. You get advice from your fellow woman on how to deal with men who disturb you in your family or how to do business.” “Once you get the right group and listen to what they say, you get up.” Friends also have a central role: “These are the people you count on as woman. They will give you advice. They form part of the groups you belong to. And when you have quarrels with your husband, they will be the first ones to come and assist. If you have small children, they will always keep an eye on your children.”

But social capital is not enough to increase women’s empowerment. It needs to be combined with a good structure of opportunities and services, which women in Bukoba also seem to have:

“You can go to the factory and ask for different kinds of jobs, such as sweeping, cleaning dishes or the compound, and even becoming their agent to buy and bring fish to the factory.”

Favorable laws are also in place:

“It is easy because the law is clear. No one loses as such: you want to divorce, you divide the property, and each one goes his or her way.”

Women in Bukoba also recognize the barriers that prevent other women in the community from gaining power and freedom:

“The moment you know that you can do things by yourself and not depend on a man is the moment you begin going up. I see some women being beaten by their husband every day and they are there. When you talk to them, they say they are married and they cannot separate. These women will never climb the ladder; they will stay at the bottom.”

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