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Women in Tanzania (Tanganyika and Zanzibar)  

Marjorie Mbilinyi

Women’s history in Tanzania is intertwined with the different ways in which gender relations were constructed over time and space and how they intersected with class and race or ethnicity. Both women and men have been actively involved in sustaining as well as changing dominant patriarchal gender relations at the household and community levels. At the same time, the colonial and postcolonial governments sought to “manage” gender relations that perpetuated their power and control at different levels of society and ensured reproduction and cheap labor. Women have exhibited agency, individually and collectively, in promoting their own interests and those of their children, families, and communities in the economic, social, and political spheres. They were actively involved in anticolonial struggles on the mainland and Zanzibar. They took advantage of institutions such as Christian missions, schools, corporate-owned mines and plantations, and townships to run away from unwanted husbands or forced betrothals and to advance themselves. Women organized themselves separately or with men to enhance their welfare in response to the new opportunities that arose after independence. During the ujamaa period of socialism and self-reliance, women established cooperative shops in both urban and rural areas to access scarce commodities, and joined block farms in ujamaa villages where they had independent ownership and control over land, farm input, equipment, and produce. They intensified their labor to earn income to support their families during economic crises and after the Structural Adjustment policies in the 1980s led to low incomes and unemployment for men. Education was another terrain of struggle and advancement for girls and women before and after independence in Zanzibar and the mainland. Women educators acted individually and collectively to advance opportunities for girls and women.