Equality & Empowerment
14 April 2016
When discussing gender, big buzzwords are equality and empowerment. During the latest USAWA committee meeting we took the time to begin unpacking these big ideas in the context of adopting a Tanzanian gender lens as a Peace Corps Volunteer. To unpack equality, gender roles are often the first target of analysis, and can be a murky realm to navigate as these rolls are often embedded constructs of the culture. Gender roles are an important and teaching tool for Volunteers during trainings, but in our communities changing gender roles should not be the sole focus. Framing equality as PCVs goes beyond deconstructing the gender roles of the culture. What it really means is for women to have the power of choice that is not pre-described through gender. It means to empower them so they have control over their own bodies and minds. It means empowering them to have the choice to say ‘no’ to risky sexual behavior, the choice to pursue education and career opportunities, and the choice to find respect in a relationship.
Empowerment, to us, means women have ownership over their own bodies, lives, minds, and support their female peers. Female empowerment isn’t gained through disempowering their male peers. Instead it recognizes the need to create safe spaces where females are able to let their voices be heard. Education is a fundamental component in empowering ownership over decisions. Keeping girls in school is crucial, and is backed by the Let Girls Learn initiative, giving us grant funding up to $2,500 for any women’s-related project we seek to create. We need to adopt a Tanzanian gender lens in everyday service. This means understanding the ways gender presents itself in the community and fostering community-based allies through listening and support.
Teaching about equality and empowerment to Tanzanian women are things that every Peace Corps Volunteer is capable of doing at site. Gender projects, such as HURU, are great tools to open the conversation of gender, with the focus on providing educational material. It is also important to recognize the fact that gender doesn’t live in the confines of these projects. The USAWA committee believes small, everyday actions can make the biggest impact. We are here to support existing gender programs and to encourage innovation among volunteers to tackle the pervasive disempowerment of Tanzanian women and girls.
Issues of gender are not female specific and instead impact every person, Tanzanian and Volunteer alike. It’s a daily practice, and some days we all fall down. Listen, engage, and support. This may seem unwieldy and hard for one volunteer to hold, but tupo pamoja (we are together)! Each action in each community is contributing to gradual, sustainable change here in Tanzania.