Complete article in “There is something we long for…”Ed. Verena Naegeli, Josée Ngalula, Ina Praetorius, Brigitte Rabarijaona.

The article describes the situation of women in Tanzania, particularly that of women in rural areas and what they experience in their daily lives. With regard to the situation and role of women in the church, the author suggests that the church has a big role to play in bringing about gender equality and women empowerment in the church, society and the world at large. She also believes that the task of women’s empowerment is a multidisciplinary one, in which theologians, anthropologists, sociologists, philosophers and others have to work together in order to achieve the goal of gender equality and women’s empowerment

It is commonly said that women are the backbone of the society. This is true due to the role and activities that women play in their daily lives in every society. In affirming this concept on the place of women in the Church, John Pobee writes: “It is a truism worth repeating that women represent more than half of the church, and further, constitute a kind of backbone of the church”.[1] Because of the varied activities of women in the church, it is the commitment of these women that makes the church alive and visible in the society.

It is the purpose of this paper to describe the current situation of women in Tanzania and how they can be empowered for the development of the country. Peter Batchelor asserts: “Little lasting good we will achieve in our development programs unless the rights, needs and abilities of women are taken into account”.[2] The church can be a powerful instrument for empowering women everywhere and bringing about the gender equality which God intended for all. Michelle Bachelet said: “Think of how much more we can do, when women are fully empowered as agents of change and progress in their societies.”[3] Indeed much can be achieved if the church would stand to fulfill God’s purpose in this world and take purposeful steps to empower women.

Definition of Empowerment

There have been many definitions of the term “empowerment” for the last few decades, corresponding to the many advocacies concerning gender and development and women’s empowerment. Empower means to give authority, to give moral or physical power, faculties or abilities to do something.[4]  The United Nations Population Information Network is more specific:

“Women’s empowerment has five components: women’s sense of self-worth; their rights to have and to determine choices; their right to have access to opportunities and resources; their right to have the power to control their own lives; both within and outside the home; and their ability to influence the direction of change to create a more just social and economic order, nationally and internationally.”[5]

This elaboration, addressing different spheres of life in which women can be empowered, suggests how empowerment can help achieve gender equality. From a theological point of view, empowerment is God-centered process. God calls people and empowers them despite their gender differences. In this view, no one can be empowered apart from the power of God, the creator.

Economy and Situation of Women in Tanzania

The majority of women in Tanzania live in rural areas; their life is difficult. The division of labor according to gender roles has been oppressive. Women work fifteen hours each day; men generally work fewer hours. There is no equality in this.

It has been said that in Africa poverty has a female face.[6] Despite the fact that women contribute much to family and national income, most of them live in extreme poverty. Furthermore, most women who live in rural areas do not have a say in what they produce. They experience discrimination and rape. The majority of women does not know their rights and hence need empowerment. Rural women have restricted access to productive resources and have minimal access to credit facilities in relation to their male counterparts.[7]

Amy Trauger contends: “As far as the empowerment of women is concerned, sustainable agriculture provides spaces of empowerment for women farmers”.[8] Nevertheless, if they do not have a say in what they produce and are not free to decide what to do with their products, it will not change their economic life. Women in Tanzania contribute to national development through their multiple roles that are accorded little recognition.

Women in the Church

The church throughout the world has been seen as an instrument for change in different cultures and situations. This is because of the gospel message that the church carries all over the world. In African history we see that the church was instrumental in the abolition of slave trade. Furthermore, the church has been instrumental in providing education, health services, and general social developments, as well as fighting negative cultural influences such as female circumcision and female genital mutilation.

Yet women are still struggling to make their mark in the church. This is related to the fact that, historically, women have been subjected to marginalization, oppression and injustice both in public and private life. During the colonial era African women suffered what we can call double oppression:  as Africans, they were oppressed by colonizers, and as women oppressed by men.

One would think that male African Christians would recognize the similarity between their own oppression by colonizers and their oppression of women, but that has not usually proven to be the case. In general, the oppression of women continues even in churches. As women toil at menial tasks in the fields and at home, they are limited to toiling in the churches. On the other hand the church has been a place of refuge for women. Women find encouragement in the church by their involvement in different activities in church life. Women are very active in the church everywhere, their role in the church in invaluable.

In the Moravian Church in Tanzania, for example, women have fellowship groups known as “kitulano”. This is a tribal term which means: helping each other. Women are committed in their ministry of God. These groups meet twice a week, coming together for worship and sharing news and concerns. I would like to take an example of the South West Province. There are approximately 450,000 members, in 208 congregations. The Women and Children Department in this province is run by two female pastors, assisted by four evangelists. The contribution of Kitulano and women at large to the provincial budget is quite significant, according to the pastor in charge of the Women and Children Department . There are three occasions on which women collect money. The first is the World Day of Prayer, on which women employ many fundraising strategies. All of the money collected goes to the provincial office and is used to pay part of the salaries for church workers. The second occasion is Women’s Day, which is held on the last Sunday of the month of June each year. On this occasion as well women organize and supervise the collection of money, which then goes to the provincial budget. The third occasion is a day of prayer for orphans and vulnerable children in August. Money collected on this day goes directly to those centers that support children. Some, who are in school, are provided with uniforms, exercise books, pens, pencils and other school supplies. Despite this major contribution to the provincial budget, women are still under-represented in decision making bodies.

 Download complete article; Mary.Verena.eng

[1] John POBEE,  “Letter from the Editor.” Ministerial Formation, No 62, 1993: p.1.

[2] Peter BATCHELOR, People in Rural Development. Carlisle, Cumbiria UK: The Pantermoster Press, 1993, p. 36.

[3] Michelle BACHELETKeynote Address at the 5th Global Colloquium of University Presidents at the University of Pennsylvania.  Occasion of UN Celebration of the Birth of Powerful New Agency for Women and Girls 2011 , p. 2.

[4] Webster’s Dictionary, 2003.

[5] report 1995 (28/07/2015)

[6] Obiageli EZEKWESILI, An Address at the Conference on the Impact of the Global Economic Crisis on Women in Africa. Washington 2009. Retrieved from http\\ p 2 (29/07/2015).

[7]Nkoli N. EZUMAH, Women in agriculture: Neglect of women’s role, Journal of the Institute of African Studies, 3, 1988 , pp 9-15.

[8] Amy TRAUGER, “Because they can do the work’: Women Farmers in Sustainable Agriculture in Pennsylvania,

USA. Gender, Place and Culture, vol.11, No.2, June 2004 , pp 23-36.