The first National Workshop on Gender and Environmental Justice, being the first of its kind in Tanzania, was held on 27th February 2017. The event was held at the Mbezi Garden Hotel in Dar es Salaam. The workshop brought together both actors of gender and environment to address issues of concern on environmental degradation, poverty, and women’s rights. The workshop was organized by Envirocare Tanzania and funded by Women Fund Tanzania (WFT), and attended by different stakeholders involving all key environmental and gender actors from the Tanzania mainland and Zanzibar. The participants came from community-based organizations (CBOs), non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the private sector, universities, government and media.
The event opened with three speeches by the Executive Director of Envirocare, Ms. Loyce Lema, Chairperson of Envirocare Madam Monica Kagya, and Executive Director of WFT Mary Rusimbi. The three speeches highlighted several objectives and expected outcomes of the workshop, reflected on major challenges of the current situation and offered potential solutions. These solutions included tailoring policies specifically to the needs of women and carrying out studies to determine the extent to which women are affected by environmental degradation and hazards. As stated by Mary Rusimbi, the expected outcome of the workshop was “to establish and strengthen relations between actors in the women’s rights movement and the environmental justice movement and to explain the motivations and mechanisms of WFT.”
Professor Ruth Meena, Chairperson of Women Fund Tanzania, explained the connection between gender discrimination and the environment. Gender discrimination against women affects how men and women benefit from and use natural resources differently, resulting in unjust distribution of natural resources.
Gisela Ngoo of the National Gender and Sustainable Energy Network presented on women’s roles in supplying energy sources, namely firewood for cooking, drinking water, and intense labor in cultivating food. With only 36.8% of the country having access to piped water in Tanzania, where rural areas are not part of this population, water collection is a burden requiring 2 km of walking during the rainy season and up to 18 km during the dry season. Women provide 72% of the labor in agriculture, which is primarily hand hoe cultivation. Looking forward, Ngoo sees advocating gender and energy as intersecting issues, with a focus on promoting women’s rights in the energy sector and raising adequate human and financial resources to accomplish the gender-energy intersection.
Monica Kagya led a workshop on gender issues in forestry in which she stressed that in Tanzania, women and girls are the main users and collectors of wood to be used as an energy source. Customary practices on land ownership and decision making hinders women’s access to and control over forest resources and economic opportunity. Many often spend hours collecting wood which takes up valuable time and as a result restricts their ability to participate in more productive activities or pursue an education.
Ms. Bumi Fred Mwaisaka presented a paper on land rights which highlighted that the fundamental principles of the National Land Policy recognizes equality in access, ownership and use of land and emphasizes about equitable distribution of land. Despite legislative support, women still face challenges in gaining access to land ownership. There must be a greater awareness about the laws and enforcement when women are being taken advantage of.
Workshop participants also watch a video on hazardous chemicals in cosmetics and its effects on human health. The video was presented by Euphrasia Shayo from Envirocare, and discussed the established link between poverty and the increased risk of exposure to toxic hazardous chemicals. The general conclusion was that impoverished people are more susceptible to toxic chemicals due to geographical location, their occupational livelihood (farmers in rural areas, sanitation workers in urban areas), and consumption of polluted water.
Following the video, Dr. Daniel Sabai from DUCE presented a study done in the Mkinga District (Tanga Region) that uncovers gender exclusion of elderly women in local elders’ meetings. The research shows that in Mkinga coastal area, there are some practices that deny women opportunities to share traditional ecological and socio-cultural knowledge. This is mainly due to the fact that there is a lack of women active in artisanal fishing. The presenter recommended that coastal-based women begin to assume active participation in fishing activities so that they can acquire and pass down knowledge to other women.
To wrap up the workshop, participants were encouraged to discuss the issues surrounding environmental abuse and women’s rights. Some reasonings given for the continued cycle of issues were: ignorance on gender and environmental issues, poor support of grassroots groups, lack of gender and environmental movement in Tanzania, and low morale of youth involvement in social movements concerning gender, environment, and agriculture. After discussions, participants proposed areas of action which included gender and environmental youth clubs, knowledge sharing, establish data base on gender and environmental justice, and more research on women and energy.
Mr. Brian Mshana (Capacity Building and Grants Officer from WFT) offered the closing remarks in which he emphasized the importance of issues raised by the participants as a way to move forward in the future of Envirocare and women’s rights.