Source: UN Women - Africa |

Women with disabilities in Tanzania lead the way towards greater local government representation

This collective of women with disabilities crafts and sells traditional artifacts and meets regularly to devise strategies for growing their businesses and enhancing the representation of women with disabilities

NEW YORK, United States of America, April 19, 2024/APO Group/ --

In the Arusha region of Northeast Tanzania, a group of women with disabilities is spearheading efforts to ensure their voices are heard in local decision-making.

For nearly a year, Paulina Sarwath has chaired the Igo group in the Karatu ward, supported by UN Women. This collective of women with disabilities crafts and sells traditional artifacts and meets regularly to devise strategies for growing their businesses and enhancing the representation of women with disabilities in local leadership so that their needs and priorities are taken into account.

Like many others, Paulina once saw leadership as an impossible dream.

"Growing up, the absence of women like us in leadership roles made it seem impossible," she shares. "But my experiences have taught me the importance of perseverance and striving for more."

This drive for inclusion is essential in Tanzania, where the 2022 National Census reveals that more than 11 per cent of the population has a disability, with a significant number being women. In Arusha alone, Paulina represents one of approximately 120,000 women (9.8 per cent of the female population) living with a disability. These women not only face gender discrimination but also barriers stemming from their disabilities and societal stigma. This compounds their vulnerability to violence and abuse and limits their participation in economic, social, educational, and political arenas, as well as their access to local decision-making processes, where key decisions affecting their lives are made.

After earning her bookkeeping certification, Paulina struggled to find employment and started volunteering at a nearby health centre. During her time there, she connected with other women with disabilities and joined 48 others to form the Igo group, a group initiated by the UN Women Project on Women’s Leadership and Economic Rights (WLER).

The WLER project, funded by the Government of Finland, aims to advance women's participation in local governance across six regions and 18 districts of Tanzania. It focuses on improving data collection, fostering gender-responsive norms, and enhancing women’s economic rights, aligning with Tanzania’s Generation Equality Commitments.

"Our goal is to create an inclusive environment where women, including those with disabilities, have the necessary support, skills, and confidence to achieve their economic and leadership goals," says Erasmina Massawe, UN Women's Project Manager for WLER.

In 2023, the project partnered with local government authorities and a local CSO, Tusonge Community Development Organization, to establish the IGO Group in Arusha and another group in the Singida region, with 48 members. The members received training to enhance their understanding of gender dynamics, the importance of ensuring women with disabilities’ voices are included in decision-making, and entrepreneurship.

Over the year, the WLER project empowered over 1,800 women, including women with disabilities, with leadership knowledge and skills. It also supported platforms for women with disabilities to include their perspectives in key government planning and policy-making processes. Additionally, the project engaged nearly 275 male community and traditional leaders, working to change discriminatory behaviors and practices locally to elevate women's roles in leadership and foster shared household responsibilities. Further efforts were made to improve national and local data collection systems, equipping local government authorities with the means to better meet the needs of women, both with and without disabilities.

Midway into the project's implementation, significant transformations are underway. New tools for enhancing data collection on women with disabilities have been introduced across participating local government authorities. In Arusha, this initiative has registered over 40 groups of women entrepreneurs with disabilities into a database, streamlining their access to government loans. Furthermore, gender-responsive budgeting training in the Lindi region resulted in directives to increase budget allocations for women and women with disabilities in the 2024/25 fiscal year.

After participating in three targeted capacity-building sessions, Paulina’s group is now a source of inspiration and education for other women with disabilities. And although challenges remain, her spirit and determination to realize a world where people with disabilities are seen as equals remains undaunted.

“They say there is nothing about us without us, so I will do my part to ensure that our perspectives are included and there are seats for us at every decision-making table, at all levels.”

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of UN Women - Africa.