Women are still highly underrepresented in politics worldwide. However, over the last decades, many African countries have adopted different legal measures aimed to ensure a better gender balance in legislatures. Rwanda, for example, has the highest percentage of women in parliament in the world.
In Tanzania, women occupy 37 percent of the seats in the lower chamber of parliament. Elected to Tanzania’s parliament in 2015, Jesca Kishoa is part of a new wave of women entering politics in Africa.
At the Anglophone Africa Regional Extractive Industries Knowledge Hub Course held in September in Accra, I spoke with Kishoa about her experience and the role of political parties in natural resource governance.
Margarita Batlle: Why did you decide to start a career in politics?
Jesca Kishoa: After I finished my studies—an undergrad degree and master’s in education—I started asking myself what I could do to help people, because I have always been a person who speaks for herself. I believed that serving as a member of parliament I would be able to speak to government on behalf of my people. After a lot of thought, I decided to compete in the 2015 elections and become an MP.
Research shows women face greater obstacles than men in running for office and developing a political career. What challenges do you face in your daily work?
For African women, it is still very difficult to become a politician. There are many obstacles. If you are a women and you want to be someone, it’s all about, “give me this in exchange.” It is a type of corruption. Women face sexism, sexual harassment… much more than men. It is how politics work.
There is another problem: the schedule. As a woman, I’m responsible for my family, taking care of my children, my husband [and] everything about my home, but still I have to perform in a very demanding job.
The campaigning environment is very difficult too. When campaigning, [candidates] lack security. Most of the time we are campaigning until late hours and it’s not safe. Usually, if you are married, your husband would say, “You shouldn’t be campaigning, you should be at home with your family.”
I was campaigning while pregnant; people didn’t understand why I was doing it. They would tell me, “You shouldn’t be here, it’ll hurt the child, you should wait until the next election.” Should I accept that being pregnant is an obstacle to pursue my dream? No. I think this helped my party to take me seriously and believe I was really committed.
In my party, we have put forward a group of women that fights to make these situations more visible, for women in the party to be safe and to reach their expectations. This way, we don’t need to be involved in any type of corrupt practices to get something from the party leadership.
How can having more women in parliament stimulate future change?
Most of the women believe that politics are for men and women should stay at home, but we have seen a lot of women leaders that perform really well. Now, with the special seats reserved for women in parliament in Tanzania, there’s a huge change. Last year, we had the first woman speaker of the parliament and she performed very well and we were all very proud of her.
As a politician, why are you interested in natural resource governance?
When I was young, I would listen to our president refer to natural resources as the “national cake” and say that it was for all. When I grew up, I got interested in how this cake could be really for all and how it might be beneficial for everyone. Knowing how much natural resources contribute to our national economy, I got more interested in understanding about taxes, contracts and investors.
Now, I’m especially interested in transparency. In most of my contributions in parliament, I talk about transparency because people have the right to know about this “national cake”—how our natural resources are being used. One of the reasons behind my decision to participate in this course is that as a member of the Committee on Energy, Oil, Gas and Mining, I need to better know how the sector operates. We need more technical knowledge in parliament.
NRGI released a guide for how political parties can positively influence resource governance this year. What role do you see political parties playing in this space?
In the case of my party, Chalema, an opposition party, we have seminars and communicate with people. We tell people about their rights, we build capacity, understanding and awareness. As a party we [help people understand] how things work. We educate them so that they can speak for themselves and hold government accountable. If citizens complain, is not the same as if we as a party complain. We help things become national, widespread and have a greater effect on government. We need to challenge our government. Right now, we face problems with our democracy and people need to be able to speak out and ask for a really democratic country.
Margarita Batlle is a capacity development officer with the Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI).