By Kizito Makoye
DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania (Thomson Reuters Foundation)—Tanzania President Jakaya Kikwete has appointed two women to powerful cabinet positions as the country prepares to enact a new constitution.
In a move seen by activists as a gesture to promote gender equality, Saada Mkuya becomes the new finance minister, succeeding William Mgimwa who died on New Year’s Day. Mkuya becomes the second woman to head the ministry; Zakia Meghji led it between 2006 and 2008.
Former UN Deputy Secretary–General Asha-rose Migiro was appointed minister in charge of constitutional and legal affairs.
Upendo Minja, a woman rights activist with Tanzania Gender Networking Programme, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that the president’s decision to appoint women in these key positions underscores his confidence in women’s leadership capabilities.
“This is a very important step towards gender equality. He is proving wrong some people who believe women are not meant to be leaders,” she said
More women’s presence in the political stage is one of the things that rights groups presented to the constitutional review commission in a bid to promote gender equality.
Migiro, a lawyer by profession, worked in various government capacities prior to her 2007 appointment at the United Nations where she served for 5 years.
In 2006, she was the first woman in Tanzania to be named minister of foreign affairs. Prior to that, she served six years as the minister for community development, gender and children.
Other women who have landed ministerial posts in the cabinet reshuffle include Jenister Mhagama, who becomes deputy minister for education, and Pindi Chana, who takes over the community development, gender and children affairs ministry.
The changes follow the sacking late last year of four ministers implicated in accusations of human rights abuses by security forces during a wildlife anti-poaching operation.
In an interview with Thomson Reuters Foundation shortly after her swearing-in ceremony, Migiro said she was deeply honoured by her new appointment and promised to work to ensure that the country gets a new constitution within a specified schedule.
“I will carry out my duties by strictly adhering to the law and making sure that we have a constitution acceptable by the majority of Tanzanians," she said.
Migiro said her five-year stint at the United Nations afforded her more political experience which she will use to ensure that the new constitution represents the interests of the majority and not a handful of individuals with special interests.
According to Migiro, defending women and children rights are among the issues that she will make priorities.
“This is a very special honour to all women out there, I promise to work hard to defend their rights in line with the law,” she said.
Women’s rights groups are also demanding changes in the country’s electoral system to give more political opportunities to women.
Section 47(1) (d) of the draft constitution stipulates that every woman is entitled to opportunities equal to those of men.
Women’s rights activists also are lobbying for a 50-50 representation of women in Tanzania politics, the right to own land, a widow’s right to inherit property and protection against gender-based violence.