February 6 is the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) designated by the United Nations to bring awareness to the dangers of FGM and “promote the sanctity of a woman's autonomy over her body and health.” The World Health Organization estimates that more than 200 million women and girls alive today have been subjected to FGM. On this day, the Hilton Prize Coalition shines a spotlight on member Tostan, a global organization contributing to the abandonment of FGM as a component of its work to empower rural communities with sustainable development and human rights based education.
“Tostan” means “breakthrough” in the Senegalese language of Wolof. Awarded the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize in 2007, the organization was founded in 1991 by Molly Melching, who had already spent more than a decade living and working in Senegal. Tostan’s flagship offering is the Community Empowerment Program, a three-year, human rights-based educational program offered in local languages that teaches literacy as well as values-deliberation and collective action for community led development. By empowering communities to lead their own development, Tostan has catalyzed a grassroots movement in West Africa for the promotion of human rights and the abandonment of harmful practices, including female genital cutting and child marriage. Tostan’s mission is to empower African communities to bring about sustainable development and positive social transformation based on respect for human rights, and to ensure every person—woman, man, girl, and boy—is able to live a life of dignity. As a result of this respectful, holistic approach, more than 20,000 women have been selected into leadership positions in their communities. More than 4.8 million people live in more than 8000 communities that have publicly declared an end to female genital cutting and child marriage.
Tostan’s unique approach to addressing deeply entrenched social norms and its method of organized diffusion relies on allying with religious leaders and former ritual cutters to speak out publicly about harmful practices and the need to respect the human right to health. The impact has been captured in this video, in which local imam Demba Dwara and cutter Oureye Sall share about their work helping to build the Tostan movement of dignity for all.
Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program is innovative in the following ways. First, it recognizes participants as the agents and architects of community change. Next, it provides a proven strategy for addressing deeply entrenched social norms. It strengthens community members dignity and individual and collective agency. It teaches, reinforces and formalizes leadership and governance skills through Community Management Committees, which are comprised of 17 people (nine of which are women), who often continue managing community issues following the formal program.
The Tostan Training Center, which was launched in 2015, shares Tostan’s model for replicability and regional and global systems change. Since opening to external trainings in March 2015, the Tostan Training Center has served more than 210 participants, representing 81 organizations from 34 countries, including 59 religious leaders. The Tostan Training Center supports grassroots movement builders and activists from which civil society leaders have been trained in Tostan's content, participatory methodology, human rights approach and movement-building strategies.
By providing high-quality human rights based education and dignity-enhancing leadership skills that advance women and girls and whole communities, Tostan has supported the original and new leaders of the Breakthrough Generation, as well as their historic and brave decisions. This recent video, New Leaders of the Breakthrough Generation, showcases how they are bravely shaping the communities of the future.
(Photos courtesy of Tostan)
Ms. Gloria Jimwaga is currently completing a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellowship through Landesa, a Seattle-based land rights NGO and Hilton Prize Laureate. Gloria is pursuing her Master’s Degree in Rural Development and Natural Resources Management from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) and also holds a degree from the University of Dar es Salaam. In this blog post, Gloria writes about her experiences as a Spring 2016 Fellow in Seattle through Landesa’s Center for Women’s Land Rights.
Advocating for Women’s Land Rights in Tanzania
by Gloria Jimwaga
My passion for women’s land rights began in 2010 when I began working for HAKIARDHI, The Land Rights Research & Resources Institute, a non-governmental organization that advocates for secure land rights in Tanzania. During my training, I visited a village in Kilindi, Tanzania, home to a patriarchal society where men have greater decision-making power than women. I asked a woman about the land that both she and her husband had owned for years. She replied, “What land? My husband’s land!” I asked her how she would define her land rights, and she said, “It belongs to my husband; if I’m to be divorced I would leave with the bags which I came with.” This conversation made me aware of some of the injustices that women face. I worked at HAKIARDHI for the next four years, driven to support land rights for women and communities.
Tanzania’s land ownership system is among the most progressive within Africa. Legally, Tanzanian women have the same rights as men to hold property and land. The challenge, however, is what happens in practice. In rural areas in Tanzania, women’s land rights are often insecure. Despite women being the drivers of agricultural production in Tanzania, they tend to be alienated and separated from their ownership of land compared to men.
The problem becomes even more complex when dealing with women’s inheritance practices. For example, many women, especially in rural areas, depend on access to land through a man—a father, brother, uncle, or husband. This can become complicated if the man dies, and the issue of inheritance is raised.
(Women participate in land use plan process in Kidabaga, Iringa, Tanzania; photo credit HAKIARDHI)
Women are also too often left out of the household decision-making related to the income generated by their land. Although Tanzanian law protects a woman’s right to participate fully in household decisions, their rights are often circumvented by customary practices. As a woman myself, I would like to see to it that all women in my country have secure land rights that are protected within the legal system and implemented without gender discrimination.
The global food and oil crises have led to an increase of large-scale land investment in Africa. As agricultural investment continues to grow in Tanzania, my fear is that women’s land rights will continue to be swept under the rug, which will have devastating effects in the future.
(Bioshape farm left unattended by investor at Mavuji Villlage Kilwa District, Tanzania; photo credit HAKIARDHI)
As a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow, I am working with Landesa through the Center for Women’s Land Rights. Landesa has a wealth of experience and knowledge on women’s land rights, and through my fellowship I am conducting research on large-scale land-based investment and its implications for women’s land rights in Tanzania. The research output will identify gender gaps as well as any successful models that exist for supporting women’s land rights, and will include recommendations and opportunities for future initiatives. The fellowship is a great way to learn how to incorporate gender relations within the issue of land rights.
There is an opportunity to further strengthen women’s land rights in Tanzania by addressing both legal and customary gaps. This can be done through legal reforms, research, community awareness building, strengthening of farmers’ associations and by improving the agricultural value chain so that women will be at an advantage. These interventions and strategies will support many women in the realization of their land rights by providing mechanisms to make these rights possible and retainable: Women will no longer state that their land “belongs to my husband only,” but instead will recognize and claim that land “belongs to both of us.”