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On my next visit, 5 years later, I renewed and deepened my friendship with a group of village women who took it upon themselves to show me what they felt I should know about their lives – everything from the rituals of childbirth and female initiation, to working in the fields, cooking, finding edible weeds and insects and making cooking pots and baskets. They told me their hopes, fears and frustrations and demonstrated their determination and ingenuity in trying to better the quality of life for their families. Gender and generational conflicts were made clear, but so was the strength of mutual support and cooperation.

From this privileged position of close friendship, I have now been able to move out to talk with women’s leaders, village elders, teachers, church leaders, development workers, agriculturalists, doctors, politicians, as well as street vendors, young people and the women’s husbands. My research has encompassed society’s leaders and the poorest of the poor and my current task is to make this wealth of material and understanding accessible to a wider public via media, internet and print. Only with this type of understanding can development policy and assistance be constructively targeted so it can really make a difference. And only if women are included in the picture can development ever hope to be successful. At a Women’s Day Event – the first in the region – the statements came repeatedly and strongly – “Women are at the heart of the family and “the keypost of development”. Educate women about hygiene, health and HIV Aids and the whole family benefits; enable women to develop small income-generating businesses and the community begins to rise out of poverty, as the women’s earnings go straight to meet immediate needs for food, clothing, roofing sheets to keep out the rain, beds, mosquito nets, health care, school fees. A repeated image expressed the eagerness and determination of the women I had met:

“Women’s Development is like a car without wheels: we are all aboard and in the driving seat, ready to go; all we lack are the wheels to make it possible.” By assisting them with those wheels so much could be achieved”.

The obstacles are large and various, but high on the list is people’s attitudes – the attitudes of men, the older generation, and women’s own low expectations. The aim of the day was to assert pride in what women do, in all their achievement, hard work and dedication; to show the power women have; and to affirm their key role in development.

The rallying call – “Men think we can’t but we can!”

Barbara Clark, one of our trustees, has recently spent two months in Tanzania continuing her research into ‘women and development’ in the central region of the country. It is part of a long-term project to raise awareness and understanding in the UK and the West about the day-to-day realities, dilemmas and issues for people living at subsistence level, those billion of the world’s population trying to survive on less than a dollar a day.

 When I first came here ten years ago I was struck by the bewildering mixture of common ground and difference between my life and that of the people I was meeting. By an accident of birth I was born into a British family and have enjoyed Western standards of living and opportunities. By a similar accident of birth my friends in Mpwapwa district were born into the daily struggle for survival with all the insecurities, privations and lack of opportunity of extreme poverty. And yet we share as much as we differ, our common humanity breaks through the seemingly unbridgeable divide of our differences. This mixture is what I hope to communicate.

Women’s Development in Tanzania

Voices 4 Development Project