Photo: UN Women/ Stephanie Raison

By Veronica U.-K.

In an area mostly noted for its highest mountain, Tanzanian women are giving Mt. Kilimanjaro some competition in fame, as women rise in economic influence in the northern Kilimanjaro region of Tanzania.

According to UN Women, more than 1,000 Tanzanian women have started businesses, joined savings and loans groups, and sought legal advice to claim their rights, through the UN Women’s Fund for Gender Equality.

The goal of the Kilimanjaro Women Information Exchange and Consultancy Organization (KWIECO) is to increase vulnerable women’s incomes, access to legal support, and an overall awareness of their rights. Establishing peer support groups, increasing the availability of information, and skill-building these women are able to gain the confidence and capacity to challenge previous violations of their rights, in order to generate a sustainable income.

Living in a strict patriarchal society, women of Kilimanjaro are often not allowed to own or inherit land. Often this lack of knowledge will leave a woman destitute, should her husband die. So, increasing awareness of the violations of their rights has been crucial in supplementing encouragement, states KWIECO’s executive Director, Elizabeth Minde, “If women come out of their shell, then you had better help them. We have to work long hours and overtime now to meet the demand.”

Even meeting once a week to discuss their problems is difficult. Approximately, transportation by motorbike—the only transportation available—costs USD 2.50, which is a significant cost, in a region where 79% of women earn less than USD 1.0 per day. During meetings, women discuss their problems, receive training and contribute USD 0.50 to the savings scheme for loans.

Legal officer Anna Gabriel is hopeful of the project’s future. Having trained 516 women on issues including human rights, gender equality, and marriage laws, 50 women are expected to be helped by pursuing cases through the courts. Such cases are mainly related to inheritance rights, domestic violence, and unpaid child support. “Having access to money made the women come forward. Some of the women knew about their rights but a barrier to accessing their rights is economic independence,” said Ms. Gabriel.

Project coordinators believe the most noticeable impact of the program is the increase in confidence of the women, as they unite in solidarity. Interviewed by UN Women, famer nad widow, Rose Davis believes, “From associating with fellow women in the group you feel less lonely,” she says, adding that her world changed “through the exchange of ideas … and also from the interaction with other women … and the loan that I accessed. Although it is not all that I need, there has been an improvement.”

Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo acknowledged the importance of women’s economic mobilization on 2 June 2015, at the Facebook supported Boost Your Business workshop for women Small to Medium Enterprise (SME) owners in Cape Town, stating, “the global GDP could rise up to $1.5 trillion, if women entrepreneurs participate equally.”