One of Tanzania's presidential candidates in the upcoming polls is a woman, the first to run for the office. Although activists hail the move, they say it is still difficult for Tanzanian women to break into politics and to be taken seriously.
Anna Claudia Senkoro beams as she reflects on how she is making history as Tanzania's first-ever female candidate for president.
The effervescent mother of three describes to VOA her five-year journey in politics that eventually led to her trail-blazing move in a conservative country not used to having women political leaders.
“I have just decided to stand because I think it is time now for a woman to rule this country,” Ms. Senkoro said. “I was to stand for a member of the parliament to the area where I come from, but I tried to look around and said, 'No, no, why should not I stand for a presidential post? I think I can make it.'”
Ms. Senkoro is from the Progressive Party of Tanzania, a small and virtually unknown group. She says she is using her own money and resources to campaign, with the odd contribution from supporters.
She is the only woman among 10 candidates vying for the top job in Tanzania's October 30th elections. More than 200 other women are running for parliamentary seats in 232 constituencies in the East African nation. More than 12-hundred candidates are running for seats.
While activists applaud Ms. Senkoro's bid for the presidency and the other women running for parliament, they say Tanzanian women still have a long way to go to be fully accepted in politics.
In a bid to increase the number of women in leadership positions, 30-percent of parliamentary seats are reserved for women, with a similar system for village councils.
The executive director of the Legal and Human Rights Center, Helen Kijo-Bisimba, says that, while a quota system is good in theory, it does not always work well for women.
“You feel, like, you are there because you have been brought there - you would not feel as aggressive as you would,” said Ms. Kijo-Bisimba. “Being a woman in this patriarchal system sometimes can be difficult - you have to really be assertive."
Ms. Kijo-Bisimba says the emphasis should be more on encouraging women to contest seats. But, she says, in patriarchal Tanzania where women are not encouraged to speak out and must battle many negative stereotypes, running for office is easier said than done.
One of the biggest challenges for many women is that the values and practices being followed in the male-dominated political sphere run contrary to their own values and practices.
A policy analyst with the Tanzania Gender Networking Program, Deus Kibamba, says Tanzanian politics have become what he calls free market, which means that many voters choose candidates who pay for votes.
“Most women are denied from owning and managing resources,” the analyst said. “So then the women, if they are candidates or not, they are unable to pay out money. Two, they do not believe in corruption. Most women in Tanzania, as in most of Africa, would not like to engage in dirty games, and they would not like to pay bribes."
Outside politics, women in Tanzania also face enormous obstacles.
Many cultural practices discriminate against women. These include: female genital mutilation; early marriages for girls; wife inheritance, where a widow must marry the brother of her deceased husband; and dowry.
The Legal and Human Rights Center's Ms Kijo-Bisimba says discrimination exists in Tanzanian legislation. According to customary law, a woman cannot inherit the property of her deceased husband or inherit clan land.
Ms. Kijo-Bisimba says candidates are not addressing these issues in their campaigns, especially in areas of the country where these cultural practices are strong. She says many politicians say what they think voters will want to hear.