Well again I must say I had intended to blog sooner and yes of course I have a good excuse to hand :) The summer has arrived in Dar and with that brings intense heat and humidity! Previously my commute to work while a little long was bearable...now with the heat I arrive to the office with hair that looks like I stuck my finger in a plug socket and with my shirt stuck to me...Nice image I know!
So anyway with that little moan out of the way, I should really update you with progress of work with TAWLA and of course life generally in this vibrant city.
TAWLA - Sexual Reproductive Health Rights Conference and Meeting with the Development Partners Working Group Gender
I have decided to write about two events that I have been involved with through my work with TAWLA since last blogging.
TAWLA hosted an international 3 day conference on 'Sexual Reproductive Health Rights' in Dar es Salaam from 5-7 October which was attended by advocates and activists from all around the world. The following countries were represented: Tanzania, Malawi, Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Mexico, Nepal, Uruguay and the US. I was there as a rapporteur and I am happy to share the report with anyone who has an interest in reading it (although it does run to over 80 pages).
The objective of the conference was for the delegates to learn from experiences and initiatives adopted in other countries which have sought to promote safe maternal health and sexual reproductive health rights. Unfortunately, even today as I type this blog too many women are dying during child birth; they have limited access to contraceptives placing them at a higher risk to negotiate safe sex and are denied medical care and treatment during their pregnancies or post abortion care where relevant. Women living in poverty are most at risk.
The rate of maternal death remains high in Tanzania with nineteen women dying in child birth every day, hospitals in the country lack quality services despite the fact that maternal child health care is recognized as an important aspect of the country’s development. Following the Arusha Declaration the government has been the primary provider of health services. The government is also bound by the Mikukuta Protocol. To put the situation in context there is only one medical doctor per 53,000 Tanzanian citizens and in remote rural areas this is considerably higher. Urgent action is required. Tanzania is currently undergoing a Constitutional review process and TAWLA will be advocating strongly for better representation of women in the new Constitution which will respect their sexual and reproductive health rights. The direct link between gender equity and poverty reductive is globally recognized. I believe that we need to recognize that all women’s rights (including legal, education, health, employment, decision making, access and control over resources, care burden etc.) are hinged on the woman’s ability to control her own body and procreation. Hence addressing and ensuring the protection of a women's sexual reproductive health rights is crucial for female empowerment.
Abortion is illegal in Tanzania, albeit with the exception where the woman's life is in danger. Notwithstanding this "unsafe or street abortions" with very crude methods of inducing a miscarriage are performed on a daily basis here. As part of a group exercise I was shocked to learn that I was the only person who did not personally know anyone who had had an abortion. I was brought to tears on more than one occasion during the course of the conference. Tanzania is culturally conservative. Even to have such an open debate on these issues is heartening. I was impressed to see my colleagues talk passionately about this and how it can be addressed. Some of the women shared with us their own personal experiences which was incredibly braved. The silence needs to be broken and I hope that this conference has assisted in building a movement with the various stakeholders i.e. legal and medical profession who can work together to better protect women.
Meeting with the Development Partners Working Group on Gender (DPWG)
So if memory serves me correctly I had mentioned that I had met with the Gender Team from the Irish Embassy and from that TAWLA had been given the opportunity to present in front of the DPWG. The DPWG is comprised of 15 of the largest donors in Tanzania that specifically focus on gender issues. I worked together with two of my colleagues to ensure that we had a professional power point presentation which highlighted the achievements that TAWLA has had in the past and our aims and objectives for the future. The meeting went very well and I genuinely believe that the partners were impressed. It was acknowledged that as TAWLA is working at a grassroots level within the community it's legal officers have their fingers on the pulse when it comes to knowing what women's issues and grievances are in reality. TAWLA has in place a Stategic Plan which runs until 2014 and while we have secured some funding to fully realise the full potential of the plan more funding is required. We hope that this meeting will bring with it some much needed funding. I guess we will just have to wait and see with our fingers crossed. In meantime we continue with our work!
My first "Send off" Party - Fun night out with the girls from the office
So I guess everyone probably wants to know what a "send off" party is?? Well when a woman marries here her family throws her an elaborate party in advance of the wedding ceremony, as once she is married she becomes a member of her husband's clan/family. Zera, the bride to be looked beautiful. Although it is a solemn and serious ceremony for her and the bride to be is not meant to smile at all! The theme colour for the party was purple. Every table was adorned in purple ribbons, flowers, candles and purple silk saris were draped from the roof. The room was lit with fairy lights. We were all encouraged to wear purple! Everyone who is invited to the party is asked to make a minimum contribution, I wonder if that tradition could be introduced in Ireland? Ha ha..... There were a number of elaborate speeches and ceremonies throughout the evening. Everyone danced the length of the room carrying their present to the bride to be...You may recall in a previous blog my colleagues had said my dancing was so bad I had two left legs not even just two left feet! So you can imagine I was more than a little self conscious as I wiggled my way up to Zera in front of 200 of her nearest and dearest!
Unfortunately, my camera has decided it no longer wants to work so I wasn't able to take any photos. My words do not do the occasion justice at all!
Life is good here in Dar...yesterday evening after work I went for a refreshing swim in the Indian ocean..yes it was blissful especially after an hour in crowded dala dala in 30 degree heat!
Anyway, I better finish up my tummy is grumbling and craving some wali maraghe (rice and beans)
So apart from