Journalist Hurriyet - Turkey's leading national newspaper interviewing Ester and Mandiwe. Photo: Oxfam
The Tanzanian Female Food Heroes get interviewed for a documentary.

Belief is everything: ‘I have always believed I could be a leader.’

22 April, 2012 | GROW, Gender Justice

"Before I entered the Female Food Hero competition I had never been outside Tanzania, however I have always believed I could be a leader. I believe I have leadership qualities," explains Mandiwe in an interview conducted by a journalist writing for the Hurriyet newspaper, one of Turkey’s leading national newspapers.

Mandiwe continues, "My family and village people had to spend our money on kerosene, if we wanted to have lighting. That was before I won the solar panels in the female food hero competition. Now we can save that money and buy food, and other resources.

Respect changes lives

"Being a competition winner has awarded me a lot of respect from the men folk in my village. They now want me to train their wives, they ask for my advice on village matters. I have even been elected to be a member on the vulnerable children and village environment committee. It makes me very proud and happy that I can contribute to the improvement of my family and that of my village people and district."

Ester, also a Female Food Hero winner, agrees that she is now granted greater visibility for the farming work that she was previously doing with no recognition. "When I won the tractor for the Female Food Competition, everyone was so proud of me. My husband now respects me more – in Tanzania men are not respectful of their wives. But things have changed for me. My life in my home and village has improved, I now mobilize women and give many talks at the district level and at national events. My five children are also very happy that I do these things. They tell their friends." However, she laughingly says, "The tractor is difficult to drive, I am still practicing, it is so big that I need a lot of strength in my arms to control it, when I am ploughing the fields."

Access to land is critical

Ester’s face looks shocked when she comes out of the session on women’s access to land: "I never knew that there were so many widows in Sri Lanka because of the Tsunami and the fighting -  I learnt that there are over 45,000 widows in just the northern and eastern parts of the country. The widows have no access to the land. No access to their land, means no access to food for their children. I find this very sad."

Mandiwe reveals, "Dada (sisters) here – their stories are so similar to ours. They work all day in the field then have to come home and continuing working within the home. Rural women have no time for themselves. Always working, working - when the speakers speak about ‘time poverty.’ Dadas do the outside work and the inside work, ‘care work’ and they receive no money for it. This is happening in so many countries, in Tanzania too. If men want to stimulate development then they must give us women better access to land and resources."

Maternal health

The multiple identities and roles that women bear is highlighted by Anna. She has just learnt that she has become a bibi (grandmother) to a granddaughter. Anna’s daughter gave birth in her village home, but lost a lot of blood during the delivery: "‘Baby born. Daughter sick. No blood. Now in hospital."

Anna’s eyes look sad, as she places her hand in mine, she knows only too well the critical danger her daughter is in; Tanzania has one of the highest levels of women dying during or after childbirth in the world. We try our best to alleviate her fears by looking at baby clothes and handicrafts made by women’s co-operatives which are being displayed at some of the exhibition stands.

Ester dancing at AWID's 30th birthday party. Photo: Jameen Kaur
Ester dancing at AWID's 30th birthday party. Photo: Jameen Kaur

AWID turns 30

There is another reason to celebrate. AWID celebrates its 30th birthday. An organization which now has over 3000 members in 150 countries and a third of its members are young feminists. "It is good to see many young girls here. They are our future," says Ester. The party is held in the underground cisterns in Sultan Ahmet, and the ceiling is lit with purple strobe lights. Large pillars give it a magnificent roman court feel. There are performers – acrobatics, dancers and fire jugglers. On stage one of the founding members of AWID: Joanna Kerr says: "Soon you will go back on the frontlines. To defend your rights, to defend justice. But tonight you, we, us must all celebrate our lives, our work, our solidarity, our movement and our victories by dancing, by having fun."

And so the music pumps and the sisters celebrate life by dancing well into the night.

Read more

Blog: Transforming economic power to advance women’s rights and justice

Blog: Oxfam and partners at AWID: a quest and hunger for change

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