Stories

Lack of women’s rights over farmland lights fire inside future activist

A need to right age-old discrimination wrongs leads lawyer to train and fight for women’s equality.

01

What do you mean, women can’t own their own land?

Anna Marwa was a young girl when she started noticing that women in her small farming village in Tanzania were mostly left out of public life. “I saw that women would work on the farms, but wouldn’t get involved in making any decisions,” Marwa said. Both her parents fully supported her education and dreams to become a lawyer, so it was a shock to Anna when she eventually learned that her own mother had also suffered from gender discrimination. Even though women are technically allowed by Tanzanian law to own their own land, the reality on the ground is a much different story. “My mother was denied the right to inherit land by her own father,” Anna said. “My grandfather had land, but he told my mother that she could only own land through her husband.” This knowledge lit a fire inside Anna and the more she grew and learned about how women were discriminated against, the more motivated she became to do something about it. “I decided that one day I would advocate for women’s rights in the pastoral community,” she said.

02

Empowerment for women becomes a calling – and a career

Today, Anna, who eventually earned her law degree, works as the Gender and Women Empowerment Officer at PELUM Tanzania, a partner of the International Budget Partnership (IBP), where she oversees gender programs. PELUM is a registered network of civil society organizations that promote learning and advocacy to tend Tanzania’s land in an ecological way – and to stand up for the rights of women farmers. It is also part of the Tanzania Gender Network, which focuses on uplifting the country’s women in all aspects of their lives.
Anna training farmers in ecologically sustainable farming. Kisangara Village, Kilimanjaro region. Photo by Michael Goima for International Budget Partnership © 2022.
Anna training farmers in ecologically sustainable farming. Kisangara Village, Kilimanjaro region. Photo by Michael Goima for International Budget Partnership © 2022.
“I train women to participate in land rights issues, and particularly to own land, use it ecologically and get involved in the decision-making process– from the household, to the village, to the nation,” she said. This work is necessary because discrimination against women is still rampant. “Only men get the profits. Women don’t get paid anything for their labor in the farms – they are totally dependent on the men in their lives – their father, brother, or husband,” Marwa said.

03

Training shows how budgets are crucial to advocacy work

Having this kind of agency and demanding a seat at the table is very new for small women farmers. And the inroads Anna and her organization are starting to make are partly made possible by PELUM’s focus on budget advocacy. In 2021, Anna took part in budget analysis and advocacy training given by IBP and partner Policy Forum and says it has transformed her mission.

“Before the training, I wasn’t aware that the budget was crucial to everything we are doing at PELUM. [Now] I have realized that the issue of budgets is a cross-cutting issue that needs to be mainstreamed in every aspect of advocacy, the government and development. Budgets show how committed the government is to address [development] challenges.”

After the training, Anna prepared four budget briefs that were shared with Parliament and others on the effect of budgets on women. She is currently focused on pushing the government to allocate funds for land certificates for women as well as additional monies to help them hire professionals to guide them on how to use pesticides and fertilizers. 

The issue of budgets...needs to be mainstreamed in every aspect of advocacy, the government and development. Budgets show how committed the government is to address [development] challenges.

Anna teaches small women farmers how to sustainably farm their land, and to advocate for participation in land rights issues. Mangara Village, Kilimanjaro region. Photo by Michael Goima for International Budget Partnership © 2022.
Anna teaches small women farmers how to sustainably farm their land, and to advocate for participation in land rights issues. Mangara Village, Kilimanjaro region. Photo by Michael Goima for International Budget Partnership © 2022.
Anna teaches small women farmers how to sustainably farm their land, and to advocate for participation in land rights issues. Mangara Village, Kilimanjaro region. Photo by Michael Goima for International Budget Partnership © 2022.
Anna teaches small women farmers how to sustainably farm their land, and to advocate for participation in land rights issues. Mangara Village, Kilimanjaro region. Photo by Michael Goima for International Budget Partnership © 2022.
Anna teaches small women farmers how to sustainably farm their land, and to advocate for participation in land rights issues. Mangara Village, Kilimanjaro region. Photo by Michael Goima for International Budget Partnership © 2022.
Anna teaches small women farmers how to sustainably farm their land, and to advocate for participation in land rights issues. Mangara Village, Kilimanjaro region. Photo by Michael Goima for International Budget Partnership © 2022.

04

Reopening public participation in the budget process – and advocating for change

Anna’s advocacy illustrates the value of public participation in the budget process— and how it can ensure that public money uplifts women and other groups who have traditionally had little say. Nevertheless, Tanzania’s government currently provides few formal opportunities for the public to engage in meaningful debate around the budget. In IBP’s 2021 Open Budget Survey, Tanzania has a public participation score of 9, significantly lower than regional counterparts such as Kenya.

The low score is a sign of the times. Back in the 2015 survey, Tanzania’s public participation score was 33. The country has been participating in the Open Budget Survey for many years, but a regime change from 2015-2020 had a chilling effect on government openness and transparency, said Godfrey Boniventura, head of programs at IBP partner HakiElimu, which conducts the survey.

“During those years, the government was not in favor of civic space, democratic processes and issues of openness,” he said. In 2017, Tanzania pulled out of the Open Government Partnership and did not participate in the survey.

That all changed in 2021 when President Samia Suluhu Hassan, was sworn in, becoming Tanzania’s first female president. In the most recent survey, the country’s scores improved, but are significantly below the level that they were prior to 2015. Boniventura said he does see heartening new signs from the government of more openness, transparency, and collaboration with civil society.

“The executive budget proposal this fiscal year was published and submitted on time (as opposed to the most recent survey findings),” he said. “And the government revamped its website to make it more friendly and reliable.”

Since then, HakiElimu has held discussions with government officials to include more details in the budget; improve public participation; revive the annual expenditure review by civil society organizations, public partners, and the government; and publish a mid-year and year-end report.

“In some cases, the documents are produced, but they don’t meet the (survey’s) standards, so they have agreed to improve them and make them qualify under the survey’s methodology,” Boniventura said.

05

Important work remains to uplift women farmers - and the country

For Anna, much work remains to be done. She continues to advocate for budget increases in agriculture in the land ministry. She says 10 percent of the government budget is earmarked to be allocated to the agricultural sector, but it is not happening. “We have been told that the agriculture budget has been increased from TZS $257 billion ($109 million US) to TZS $957 billion ($408 million), but it has not reached us. We have only seen 2 percent, not 10.”

Anna is excited about the change in her government’s leadership and believes it will go a long way to change the country’s customs to match the legal system. “Having a woman president, now the community has slowly started to change their minds and see that women can be leaders and work like men,” she said.

Having a woman president, now the community has slowly started to change their minds and see that women can be leaders and work like men.”

She believes that with the new president, PELUM’s efforts, as well as the work of other civil society organizations, true equality between women and men in Tanzania is now an achievable goal.

“My mother believed that one day the traditions would change. I remember one day she said to me, “Anna, I don’t want you growing up in the same situation like I did. I hope one day you will stand for yourself and the other women out there.”

As Anna continues her advocacy for Tanzanian women, she is living proof that her mother’s dreams have already come true.

Anna Marwa, Gender Empowerment Officer at PELUM Tanzania. Photo by Michael Goima for International Budget Partnership © 2022.

This story was produced with the financial support of the European Union.

About this story
Related topics & Initiatives
Related Countries & Regions