TO THE RED CARPET FEMINISTS; CONGRATULATIONS FOR BREAKING A GLASS CEILING.

BY TINA MFANGA

2021 will be remembered as the year of two major events in the history of Tanzania. The loss of a president while in power for the first time, and swearing in the first female president since independence. While others mourned for the loss, some celebrated the new president and mostly feminists who couldn’t wait to show their excitement.  It was indeed a mixed feeling so much that the social media conveyed both, congratulations and obituaries at the same time.  I too had penned my unpublished farewell but that is a subject for another time.

For the past four months I have not been able to convey my congratulations to the only female president and of course all the feminists for that matter. All that time I was torn between celebrating the female president or continue mourning with the grassroots women.  As the jokes went around that women are now in full control because they are in a state house, I couldn’t shake off my thoughts on poor Tanzanian women.  The only state house these women exist is in their farms, vending spaces and slums without basic needs. In fact, they are not even in full control of those places thanks to the land grabbers and eviction authorities.  Of course nobody says that we shouldn’t have a female president because of those poor women, my only concern is how that presidency reflects in those women’s daily struggles. Now that everybody’s excitement of the first female president is almost over, let me enclose my less excited congratulation note with such concerns for further reflections.  

A BROKEN GLASS CEILING ON UNDISTURBED STRUCTURE?              

Back in the days of Clara Zetkin, feminism was understood from the working women’s perspective. Discussions around women liberation did not merely focus on a ceiling but the whole structure upon which the said ceiling was attached.  The main struggle was not about breaking the barriers but dismantling the structural basis that creates and natures the said barriers. Those whose interests ended with breaking the barriers were highly criticized.  Comrade Alexandra Kollontai warned that such kind of feminists seek equality in the framework of existing class society. She added that they do not attack the basis of unequal society but fight for prerogatives for themselves without challenging the existing prerogatives and privileges.     

 A century has gone now since such meaningful women struggles were initiated and highly contributed to the revolution which built a new humane society.  Now that Neo-liberal activism has done a great job of co-opting it, the word ‘working’ women has been removed from the agenda. Treated as if they do not exist, working women’s voices can hardly be heard, their struggles unnoticed and their interests disregarded. Women struggles have been so simplified that the focus is only on breaking a glass ceiling. That is how bourgeois women have been forcing to generalize their own prerogatives, and lure all women into thinking that they are in the same situation.  

I know some will say that there have been attempts to differentiate situations facing women. That there is even a different metaphor known as a concrete ceiling used to explain such differences.  The concrete ceiling showing the hard barriers facing unprivileged women while a glass one stands for the barriers easily broken by privileged women to join men of their social class.  Much as I agree with this differentiation but a ceiling is just part of a bigger structure, whether hardly or simply broken it doesn’t entail the structure’s complete dismantling. It is however on the upper part so unless one can climb, breaking it will be a day dream.

Clara Zetkin, one of the brave comrade behind the International Working Women’s day (8th March), which has now been commercialized.

Now back to my country, a woman has broken a glass ceiling and we have a female president. She is now an icon of red carpet feminism and according to such feminists, Tanzanian women are heading to the land of milk and honey. This was also reiterated last month in Dodoma when her excellence met women of her class, and few low class women who got a tokenistic invitation. The congregation was not only reminded of the milestones made by women in Tanzania but also given plans that will take them to a promised land.

While it’s true that such milestones cannot be completely trashed, a blind inclusion of all the women is nothing but an intended aberration. Tanzanian women also belong to different social class camps. We have those who have broken the ceiling, their fellows who are climbing for the same, and those who cannot even find a ladder for climbing. The two camps clearly have opposing interests so thinking that she represents all women, ignores the mourning voices from the low class camp.

I am speaking of the voices of the grassroots landless women who have always mourned for their grabbed land.  Those who have either lost farms, homes or both and being turned in to slaves of the so called investors. The women hawkers whose right to the city has always been at the mercy of the authorities. These are the same women who have been turned into modern slaves of financial institutions, as they struggle to access sold social services.

Ironically all those were included in the ‘empowerment’ that came with a female president as if they would share her privileges.  As if such presidency meant assured homes for the Jangwani homeless mothers, or reinstatement of grabbed land for the Amboni and Kilosa landless families. As if when she became a president, these poor women would freely access better maternal health services and every girl would equally receive better education. Since I knew that wouldn’t be the case, I clearly never joined the red carpet feminists to celebrate their own prerogatives in the name of all women. Doing so would be putting a positive spin on an ugly reality, and denying myself a possibility to continue challenging  the status quo.

MY SINCERE ‘HEART FAILED’ CONGRATULATIONS.

I have never been interested in congratulating any president before, and even when this first female president seemed to excite most women I still couldn’t. My little experience had killed excitements for tokenistic inclusion in the oppressive systems, so she made no difference to me right from day one. No wonder I got accused of not ‘being a true feminist’ but didn’t care, I thought the heartfelt congratulations should come from the red carpet feminists.  I on the other hand decided to wait for them to finish their honeymoon, and convey my ‘heart failed’ compliments to all of them;  her excellence, other ‘women representatives’ and all those who identify with this kind of empowerment.

Starting with her excellence. Despite some praises that she started well, for me her first speech was a sharp thorn to the poor women. Her orders to let the investors enjoy are still fresh in my mind, and the voices of the landless women are stuck there as well. Although in Dodoma she encouraged women to own land and houses like men, such encouragement was for the privileged and not those who live under a constant fear of eviction. It is their resistance to such evictions that hinders the investors’ enjoyment, and any order to protect investors against disturbances means the majority of women and men alike will continue mourning. Thanks to such order; I have witnessed more tears from women hawking at Kariakoo, Machinga complex and Mbezi bus terminal for the past four months.  The Majambaa village leaders in Kilosa are already in police custody for defending their village land, while a dark cloud has covered Amboni where a longtime struggle had almost been fruitful. For the poor Maasai of Ngororo living in a ‘conservation’ is signing one’s own death certificate, but investors are free to flood conservation and game reserves alike. For such and many others, I don’t see any hopes for poor women. This heart failed note is just a reminder that in solidarity with such women, we will continue disturbing investors as we resist land grabbing.

Same goes to our female legislators; These have been there even before the president, but nothing really changed to the majority of women. One can hardly tell their difference from male representatives, when it comes to some critical women issues in the parliament. While they had to push the house for decisions that would change poor women’s lives, they opted to charity mantra just like their male counterpart. It’s ironic that our deputy speaker and other female representatives, failed to defend a free sanitary pads motion in the parliament and chose to become donors for the same. Instead of holding the government accountable for the commodified poor maternal health services, they find pride in donating few hospital supplies and sponsor some bills. In short they have become more of self proclaimed ‘good Samaritans’ than government policy’s scrutinizers. May be we should congratulate them for owning charity organizations used to sanitize their image for elections.

Finally, to the rest of the red carpet feminists who find so much pride in our female president. These are the advocates for breaking the glass ceiling who run various ‘women empowerment’ campaigns,  provide few girls with scholarships and conduct ‘capacity building programs’ for the marginalized women. They are indeed doing a great job no wonder some of them are award winning figures and promising candidates for government’s appointments. They work in cahoots with the government, the business community and international colonial agents. No wonder when we call for free education for all, they pacify the agenda with few scholarships from their projects.  And when we call for free pads for all women, they help business people’s campaign for tax exemption of the same. In fact some of them are main dealers of sanitary pads, and so they use poor women to sanitize and market their business by donating few packets to them.   May be they should be congratulated for that work, but alas all that is only good for few to break the ceiling while strengthening the structure that holds it.

AGAINST THE WHOLE STRUCTURE.

Having seen the kind of women empowerment that comes with red carpet feminism, we can now conclude that breaking a glass ceiling is for the selected few. It is also an optical illusion to believe that women can be completely liberated  under this system just by breaking that ceiling.

It is clear that capitalism enables few women to join the upper class camp, without affording them a complete freedom from patriarchy.  For example; being parliamentarians has not spared our female representatives from women policing, we have seen them being harassed under the pretext of dressing code and the related. Also having women wings in the male dominated parties, has not afforded them equal opportunities for decision making in the said platforms. The same happens in other male dominated high rank spaces, where women are expected to behave within certain boundaries of femininity.

The above assertion drives us to the reality that women are only accommodated in the current system, so that they can also be used for the oppression of other women and men of the low class. Currently Samia Suluhu and her fellows in other decision making bodies, are being used to implement policies that have been oppressing poor women and men alike. The same way  Hillary Clinton was used to turn Libya into a nightmare for poor women, Kamala Harris approves the sanctions that are killing the Cuban, Iranian and Venezuelan women. Yet, Samia, Hillary and Kamala will forever be used as symbols of women empowerment, and every girl has to be inspired by them. Well, it is tempting to subscribe to such kind of feminism because it attracts red carpet treatment.

On top; From left is Hillary Clinton addressing the Beijing women’s conference in 1995. The right side shows the suffering women and other poor masses in the ruined Libya, after the 2011 USA’s military invasion when she was the secretary of state. And below is our feminist Hillary again, calling for boldness in demanding women’s rights 25 years after the Beijing conference.

Because I will always get inspired by the likes of Zetkin, let me  just conclude with a kind reminder from her comrade Allexandra; “Each new concession won by the bourgeois woman would give her yet another weapon for exploitation of her younger sister and go on increasing division between women of the two opposite social camps.” That being said, Tanzanian poor women should expect nothing different from this president and continue their struggle against the whole social economic structure that oppresses them. Until now, it is crystal clear that this new won concession is just another weapon against them.

3 comments

  1. Thank you, Tina. It’s always refreshing to have someone like you reminding us “feminists” and others who fight against inequality.
    I’m one of those who celebrated I thinking of getting that first female for the first time. I was and still am full aware that having her as a presidency was not an automated change for the women you correctly talked about or the poor men. I think to me was more of just having that first female that looks like a SHE…I was aware she is not a feminist and frankly speaking one does not need to be a call herself a feminist to bring change or challenge the system. I was aware she probably will not be able to challenge the system or the unequal structure that favors the few because she is part of that system…but I had some hopes that somehow she can touch some surfaces and leave the digging to those of us…

    T you Tina, your article takes some of us back especially me to the reflection desk.
    Thank you again

    Like

  2. T Mzamo · · Reply

    Very interesting article my leader. You only could have written the subject with such force of clarity.

    Like

    1. Indeed 😊

      Like

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