Women dressed in vibrant African fabric are sprinkled across fields of tea, coffee and banana trees. This is Tanzania, and these women are the caretakers of the land – and of their families. And yet, for women like Isabella Mwile, hard work in the field and raising children doesn’t necessarily make her a partner at home. Traditionally in Tanzania, men are the decision makers. However, in Isabella’s village of Mbaka, in Rungwe district, these traditions are changing.
In January 2015, leaders of Mbaka village acknowledged Isabella’s leadership qualities and selected her to attend an Innovations in Gender Equality (IGE) training-of-trainers course on women’s’ and girls’ leadership in agriculture. With funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by Land O’Lakes International Development, the IGE program facilitated this session with the goal of improving community members’ knowledge and understanding of issues that are critical for women’s empowerment in Tanzania.
During the three-day training, Isabella learned about the benefits of expanding a women’s role inside and outside of the home. Like how two heads are better than one when it comes to decision making on raising children or household finances. And how important it is to raise boys and girls equally. She also
learned about how much value a woman can bring to a community organization or government position.
I was most surprised by the fact that I could be independent from my husband. I realized that I could contribute to our household income by starting my own business of selling cereals, rice and beans,” says Isabella. She went home to share what she learned with her husband. He was supportive. In fact, he was proud of her new found confidence and relieved to have a second opinion, and a second income.
Since 2012, IGE has trained 443 people like Isabella to become trainers of women’s empowerment and gender equality in their communities. And, over 3,900 women and 1500 men have joined groups to learn about the important role women can play in their homes and communities.
After her training, Isabella formed the Upendo group to share what she learned. For the last two years, they have been meeting every Thursday to discuss how they are incorporating the lessons of gender equity into their lives.
One woman joined the school board and plans to run for district office next year. A few women share about the benefits of joint household decision making. One woman speaks about how her son and daughter now have equal access to education – and are doing the same household chores. Several women have been empowered to start their own business. And one woman, a widow, is now confident to fix up the house, taking charge of repair projects that her husband used to see to. The stories
vary, but each has a common theme. As Isabella puts it, “Our confidence is growing. We are helping each other improve and take care of ourselves. We no longer depend only on our spouses.”
Since the first meeting in 2015, Isabella’s group has grown from 20 to 50 members – including both women and men. “Neighboring communities are taking notice, they admire us and want to join. Our women members are known for our matching skirts! We have applications for 10 more members,” she says. Attendance is 5,000 Tanzanian shillings (2.50 USD) a week – and the money goes to a group loan system. Members can take out loans to buy supplies for their farm, or to provide temporary support to support one another during family emergencies.
As their weekly meeting ends, the women and men of Upendo joyfully sing a hope for their future in Kiswahili, “Waking mama tusonge mbele, tusirudi nyumbo…” In English, this means, “Mothers let us move forward, we should not go back…” Thanks to people like Isabella, Mbaka is making progress.
“I was most surprised by the fact that I could be independent from my husband. I realized that I could contribute to our household income by starting my own business of selling cereals, rice and beans.”