How Tanga women take centre stage in forest conservation

Muheza. It is close to twenty years now since the world’s women met in Beijing, China in 1995 to discuss, including women to contribute as men in the development process.

The meeting also, among other things, heard and discussed statements and commitments from different member states regarding actions they would take to promote equality, development and peace for and with the women of the world.

Since then, different countries, including Tanzania have been struggling to emancipate women economically, socially and politically. The struggle, which began even before independence, had passed through different stages.

The Tanzanian government has made a formal commitment by signing international and regional gender parity declarations and protocols. Apart from the Beijing declaration, the country has also ratified the SADC and Maputo protocols on women’s rights.

For some time, the struggle for gender parity in Tanzania politics and other decision making organs has been successful, with the government committing itself to realising a 50:50 gender ratio.

At Misozwe Ward, Muheza District in Tanga Region, women have taken initiative to fight against environmental destruction.

It might seem odd for some women in other parts of the country to take up roles that mostly are known to be ‘reserved for men’. However, the story in this ward is different. Through the Tanzania Forest Conservation Group (TFCG), an organisation dedicated to conserve and restore the biodiversity of Tanzania’s most important forests, the Eastern Arc Mountains and Coastal Forests, for the benefit of present and future generations of Tanzania, the women have managed to organise awareness training geared to help colleagues to understand the importance of forest conservation and take part in ensuring sustainability of the forest cover.

TFCG is implementing a Mama Misitu Campaign at the district level in Muheza with special focus on promoting better forest governance.

Mama Misitu is a communication campaign aimed at improving governance of Tanzania’s forests and reducing illegal forest harvesting, so that the people can benefit from sustainably managed forests. Through the campaign, the communities learn about various participatory forestry mechanisms for strengthening their rights to forests and their ability to benefit from the sustainable management of their forests.

Women in Misozwe and Mkwajuni villages are taking the campaign seriously. The Manga Forest Reserve, which is 1,636 hactares and Mlinga Forest (owned by the central government) and the village owned “Msitu wa Kizee,” which border the villages are now in a good condition, thanks to the efforts taken by the villagers, with women leading the efforts.

Members of the Journalists Environmental Association (JET) witnessed what these women are doing with awe. They also developed interest in understanding how they tackled environmental challenges in their area.

The journalists, who are implementers of the Mama Misitu campaign at the national level, were in Muheza District to have first-hand experience of the people’s environment in forest governance and the benefit they realise from their involvement.

Ms Joyce Tupa, a resident of Misozwe Village, says nearby forests mean everything to them that there is no way they could let them go. “We depend on these forests to get almost everything for our existence,” she says.

The forests, according to the woman, provide for natural sources of water, cooking firewood, vegetables, herbs and more importantly, they attract rainfall.

“For years now, this village has never known something called drought…we get rainfall twice a year which help us grow crops of different kinds…we are blessed,” she says.

She says that the benefits associated with the forests have automatically made them join the efforts to make the forests sustainable.

Ms Zainabu Omar, who is the chairperson of the environment and natural resources committee, says that thanks to some organisations like the TFCG, they have managed to understand the ways through which the environment can be conserved sustainably.

“We are aware of what the environment can do for us…we now take part in patrols to make sure that no one enters the forests to harvesting anything illegally,” the chairman says.

Ms Zainabu says that the committee of 15 members she chairs comprises eight women and seven men, something that shows how the women take the conservation thing seriously.

She says the women are only constrained by lack of equipment to make them protect the forests properly.

At Mkwajuni Village, women make up 50 per cent of the 15-member environment and natural rsources committee, something which the village chairman, Mr Yohana Zuakuu, says is a testimony that women were very much involved in the conservation process.

“We need some protective gear: rubber boots, machetes and helmets among others because sometimes we meet with animals,” he adds.

She also admitted that their involvement in the process was quite often causing problems with their husbands who would otherwise want them to remain at home.

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