Following the Fellows: Establishing Legal Rights to Women’s Equality in Tanzania and KenyaJuly 13, 2016
The Tanzanian government currently lists the number of registered and eligible voters by gender and region online. The data was published just days after Miriam Matinda, a 2015–16 AAUW International Fellow, published an article in The Guardian with the headline: “Will women’s votes determine the winner?”
Coincidence? Matinda doesn’t think so. After Tanzania’s National Bureau of Statistics ignored her information request, she wrote the piece using unofficial data on registered voters. She believes her move may have influenced the government to release the official data.
Matinda intended to use the data to prove that women make up a significant portion of the Tanzanian electorate, so their elected officials “should be a [people] who will at the end of the day work to make the lives of women much better,” she said. West African women such as Matinda and Valentine Khaminwa, a 2015–16 AAUW International Project Grantee from Kenya, are AAUW change agents determined to hold elected representatives accountable to women in their countries.
Matinda and Khaminwa aim to create a world where women are treated as equals. They say equality will be achieved when the letter of the law is actually carried out in the daily lives of women and when women are confident to stand up for their rights. Although they see marriage as a vehicle to effect change for women, many women unfortunately don’t realize their vulnerability to patriarchal customs until their spouses die.
“Once this person dies, the very first thing you will hear is that they will appoint a male relative from the husband’s side to oversee and distribute the properties,” Matinda said. This practice leaves women and children vulnerable to poverty and feeds the pipeline to childhood marriage.
Matinda is using her AAUW award to conduct research that creates a women’s rights agenda through traditional paradigms. She says her framework starts with guidance given by the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Maputo Protocol for the continent of Africa. But she wants to go a step further: Matinda’s ultimate goal is for the Tanzanian constitution to include a specific article that references and protects women.
Incentivizing Change in Kenya
In May 2014, married women in Kenya won a new set of protections, but few knew about them, and others saw no need for them. The Marriage Act of 2014 requires that all civil and customary marriages be registered within three years of its passing. In a country of 42 different tribes with a nearly equal amount of tribal laws, some women believed love would provide them with the security they needed in their marriages. Khaminwa saw a potentially devastating knowledge gap, so she crafted a grassroots program through an AAUW International Project Grant that trains community leaders in Nairobi to educate both women and men on the importance of registering marriages under the civil law regime.
Using what she calls “incentivizing change,” Khaminwa empowers women to discuss marriage registration by emphasizing the benefits for the woman and her children.
“[Asking to register a marriage] would actually create tension with their husbands,” Khaminwa said. “If, after eight or 10 years of marriage, you suddenly [register] your marriage because you would like to safeguard your property interests, a lot of men would regard it as aberration or that the woman has bad intentions.”
Khaminwa produced a comprehensive brochure about the importance of marriage registration in Kenya — a product that was the first of its kind. Today, more than 45 community leaders have been trained on the importance of marriage registration, and one session was delivered to more than 200 students.
This post was written by AAUW Fellowships and Grant Program Assistant Seaira Christian-Daniels
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