Tanzania: A life-cycle approach to gender equality and decent work

The Government of Tanzania, in partnership with the ILO, is seeking to alleviate poverty through education and training for poor women and children, as well as promoting gender equality. This article explains how ILO projects have contributed to change the lives of poor women and their families in the country

TANGA, Tanzania - Salma Harub Abdala survived with her six children for years on less than one US dollar per day. Her husband abandoned her in the early 1980s, and with only one income, Salma could not afford to pay for adequate housing or for her children's education.

The situation became even worse when her husband returned home, invalid and paralysed, because his relatives refused to care for him. So Salma had to do it until his death in 1992.

Things changed when Salma started receiving loans from the ILO project "Promoting Gender Equality and Decent Work Throughout All Stages of Life in Tanzania". "With increased sales and profit, I am able to pay education requirements for my younger children, I have improved the housing condition, and we are able to eat quality meals", she says, adding that "two of my daughters have directly benefited from the project".

Salma's elder daughter joined a Women's Group in Tanga giving loans to its members, while the project allowed her younger daughter, aged 16, to attend a training course. Facilitating the transition from school to productive employment through education, training, and provision of alternatives to youth facing an uncertain future, the project allowed increasing numbers of young people to break the cycle of poverty.

They are not the only ones. Hundreds of disadvantaged women in Tanzania are echoing such success stories as they benefit from the loans, microfinance, education, and literacy, entrepreneurial, and leadership training offered by the project. Women who did not previously have access to loans have effectively learned to borrow, profit from, and repay loans.

Asha Rajabu, a member of the Women's Group in Dar es Salaam, recalls: "I never wanted to take a loan. I was scared of not being able to repay it. My friends encouraged me to take a small loan for trial." The loan eventually led to a profitable business and the ability to put her three children through school, without the support of a husband.

"The project has been a great relief to me," Asha continues. "I urge all poor women to join the project. At the beginning you feel scared because you have never borrowed a loan or gone to a bank, but once you get started, you feel like you had lost a great deal of time, which could have changed your life."

Asha's and Salma's stories illustrate the particular difficulties that women face in the world of work. The ILO project recognizes that women workers contribute immensely to their families and societies. However, gender discrimination in access to resources, as well as to educational and economic opportunities, continues to undermine women's efforts to participate effectively in socioeconomic development.

Women, and especially single mothers, are expected to fulfill multiple roles as workers and care givers, making it impossible to hold a full-time job in the formal economy. For these women and those who have not had the opportunity to complete the training needed to find decent work, the informal economy is often the only option.

Workers in the informal economy, however, do not have social protection or benefits, are poorly paid, and are more likely to have hazardous jobs, such as in the sex industry. Whether in the informal economy or in the formal economy where they do most of the part-time or casual work, poor women hold jobs that are precarious at best. Their concentration in low-paying and insecure jobs, and continued sexual harassment leaves women powerless and helpless.

But the project addresses not only the elimination of discrimination of women in employment and occupation. Its schooling and training activities for girls and young women also cover another major concern of the ILO, the elimination of the worst forms of child labour. Tanzania is among the first three countries which committed themselves to the Time Bound Programme for elimination of the worst forms of child labour.

Working Out of Poverty

The report of the Director-General to the International Labour Conference in 2003, Working Out of Poverty, noted that "identifying the key stages of life when people are vulnerable to falling into poverty is the starting point for understanding the dynamics of life and work of poor communities…if girls, compared to boys, face negative cultural attitudes and practices and discriminations from birth, they will grow up to be women with greater constraints and few choices and opportunities. In turn, they will be less able to influence positively the lives of their daughters and sons, so that poverty is likely to be passed on from one generation to the next".

The ILO project in Tanzania has taken into account the feminization of poverty as well as its transmission from one generation to the next. It will work not only to improve the lives of the women directly impacted by the project, but also to enable continuous changes in the lives of women and their children in years to come. The project thus represents an important step in Tanzania's overall Poverty Reduction Strategy.

According to the project philosophy, there can be decent work and poverty reduction only if girls and boys have equal opportunities for education and are not forced into hazardous forms of work by poverty. Girls and women may choose, have a voice, combine work and family and make smooth transitions from one stage of life to another.

The project promotes knowledge that will help women to ensure that discrimination encountered at one stage in life is not perpetuated at later stages and gains made at one stage are not lost as a person ages. The major intervention strategies include access to formal and non-formal education, employment creation, and promotion of gender equality.

Through this life-cycle approach, the ILO hopes to create a sustainable programme which will contribute to the UN Millennium Development Goals of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, and promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women; and which will continue following the termination of the project. Substantial gains have already been made in all areas.

"Initially, we were afraid of borrowing. We did not know that as poor women, we could borrow and repay loans… It is only after training that we developed the confidence to borrow, and without it, we would not have been able to invest the loans productively … There has been tremendous improvement in our lives", says a member of the Tanga Women's Group.

Promoting Leadership

The recognition of women workers' immense contribution to their families and societies will further the impact of the project. It will also enable women to better advocate for themselves, leading to the empowerment of future generations. The formation of women's groups is perhaps the most clearly effective change thus brought about.

Another member of the Women's Group in Tanga reports: "At the beginning, women were reluctant to join the group. Now many of our friends want to join the groups after seeing the benefits. Women have been motivated, and are gradually forming groups. The demand to participate in the project is very high in our area."

Women and youth are receiving training which will allow them to make their voices heard throughout the community. Salma attests, "Now I know what to do when I attend and chair meetings. In the past, I honestly did not know how to run meetings and reach effective and democratic decisions. Through the confidence I gained in the project, I contested and won a seat in the Regional Executive Committee… I am also the chairperson of the Project Monitoring Committee in Tanga Municipality."

Future plans to further facilitate the empowerment of poor women and children and broaden the impact of the project include continuing assistance, training, and capacity building for women and youth to formalize their groups/associations to Savings and Credit Cooperative Societies (SACCOS). A high-level national workshop is intended to scale up the project to national-level policies and programmes. Further elements would be a needs assessment for youth participating in the project and expanding family-friendly programmes such as professionally staffed day-care centres.