Kikwete, Helen Clark’s Efforts on Gender Parity

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In a relentless quest for gender equality, the world has seen the impactful endeavors of leaders dedicated to bridging the gap between men and women. At the recent WomenLift Health Conference in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, two influential figures in global politics, former Tanzanian President Dr. Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete and former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, converged to advocate for gender parity.

Michelle Bachelet, the Former Executive Director of UN Women, underscored the urgency of implementing policies to ensure access to women’s rights. She emphasized, “Women’s rights are human rights, and there is no task more urgent than ensuring that all women and girls everywhere have access to them.”

According to the “Women, Business and the Law 2023” report by the World Bank, only a handful of nations ensure complete economic parity between genders. The report underscores that a mere 14 countries extend comprehensive legal protections to women in the economic realm. Across the globe, a significant disparity persists in economic rights between men and women. This discrepancy is evident in certain countries where women may legally receive lower wages for performing identical work to men.

Jakaya Kikwete: Pioneering Gender Equality

Dr. Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, who served as Tanzania’s fourth President from 2005 to 2015, made significant strides in promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment in his country because he recognized that sustainable development hinged upon the full participation of women in all sectors of society. His tenure witnessed the implementation of various policies and programs aimed at dismantling barriers to gender equality. Giving a speech during the event, Kikwete said Tanzania has a clear policy that promotes gender equality and women’s empowerment. “This is a crucial first step, as it lays the groundwork for creating opportunities,” he said.

“In Tanzania, significant strides have been made towards gender equality, particularly in providing women with employment opportunities and involving them in decision-making roles. Three key factors contribute to this progress.  Firstly, having a clear policy that promotes gender equality and women’s empowerment is crucial, and fortunately, Tanzania has such a policy in place. Secondly, commitment from leadership, particularly from the highest office in the country, plays a pivotal role in implementing and enforcing these policies. Lastly, it’s important to highlight the impact of initiatives aimed at ensuring women’s representation in decision-making positions,” said Kikwete.

“During my presidency, there was a lot of discussion about achieving gender parity, often referred to as the “50/50″ goal. I’m proud to say that by the end of my term, we had established a national policy promoting this objective. It wasn’t easy, and I don’t boast, but as the first female president in our nation’s history, I’m confident I played a significant role in fostering a surge in women leaders. We saw a remarkable increase in the number of women appointed to leadership positions across various sectors,” he said.

“I played a crucial role in ensuring greater female representation in leadership positions. This included the landmark appointment of the country’s first female Speaker of the National Assembly. While our party’s dominance in the political landscape provided an opportunity, the decision to nominate a woman for Speaker was a deliberate one, not just a consequence of our majority.”

One of Kikwete’s pivotal initiatives was the enactment of legislation to promote women’s rights and representation. In 2010, Tanzania adopted the Law of Marriage Act and the Law of the Child Act, which raised the legal age of marriage to 18 and prohibited child marriage, thereby safeguarding the rights of young girls and enabling them to pursue education and economic opportunities.

“In my experience as president,” Kikwete echoed, “I often encountered appointment proposals dominated by male candidates. Statistics reflected this reality. To address this imbalance, I adopted a specific strategy. Whenever I received a list of potential appointees, I would first identify qualified women and prioritize them for leadership positions. The remaining positions were then filled with qualified men.”

“By the end of my term, I was proud to see over 30 new female judges appointed to the bench,” he said.

Helen Clark: Breaking barriers, inspiring potential

Helen Clark, as the Prime Minister of New Zealand from 1999 to 2008 and later as the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), emerged as a global advocate for gender equality and women’s empowerment. Throughout her illustrious career, Clark demonstrated a steadfast commitment to mainstreaming gender considerations across diverse policy areas and institutional frameworks.

“The types of jobs women excel in showcase the importance of supporting their rise from middle management to top leadership,” said Clark.

“As the saying goes, ‘You can’t be what you can’t see.’ If young girls never see women in top positions, how can they envision themselves there? Similarly, if men and boys never witness women in leadership roles, they might not believe women are capable,” she said.

“For instance, during President Kikwete’s time in office, he implemented measures to ensure a critical mass of women in parliament, which significantly impacted gender representation.  This strategy can quickly achieve a critical mass of women in parliament, allowing them to demonstrate their competence,” she said. ” During my tenure at UNDP, we often referred to this strategy as ‘agenda closure’ – a last resort to ensure increased female representation.”

“When more women are in prominent positions, it sets a precedent for others and helps normalize the idea of women in leadership roles. It’s not just about discussing the problem; it’s about taking proactive steps based on positive experiences and lessons learned,” said Clark.

During her tenure as Prime Minister of New Zealand, Clark implemented progressive policies to advance gender equality, including pay equity legislation, parental leave reforms, and increased funding for women’s health and education. She also served as UNDP Administrator, championing gender mainstreaming and promoting women’s empowerment globally. Clark launched the Gender Equality Strategy, integrating gender considerations into UNDP’s work. She also played a key role in advancing the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 5, by advocating for gender equality and women’s empowerment through advocacy, partnership-building, and resource mobilization.

READ ALSO: DR. JAKAYA MRISHO KIKWETE: A Statesman’s Legacy of Leadership and Service

The legacies of Jakaya Kikwete and Helen Clark in advancing gender parity are profound and enduring. Kikwete’s efforts in Tanzania laid the foundation for a more inclusive and equitable society, where women have greater opportunities to thrive and contribute to nation-building. His emphasis on legislative reforms, women’s empowerment, and investments in social development continue to shape Tanzania’s trajectory toward gender equality.

In the journey towards gender parity, the contributions of leaders like Jakaya Kikwete and Helen Clark serve as beacons of hope and inspiration. Through their visionary leadership, steadfast commitment, and transformative actions, Kikwete and Clark have propelled the agenda of gender equality forward, leaving behind legacies that continue to shape the lives of millions around the world. As we celebrate their achievements, let us also reaffirm our collective resolve to build a more inclusive, equitable, and just world for all.

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