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Developing Gender Equality among the Fipa

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Several NGOs in the Rukwa Region of Tanzania have been campaigning recently for their society to promote more gender equality. They are particularly focused on women having better guarantees to the lands they help farm. Several of the villages mentioned last week in a news report about the situation are located in the traditional Fipa territory of the Rukwa Region.

Tanzanian women farmers

Tanzanian women farmers (Photo by USAID in Wikipedia, in the public domain)

According to the news story, activists from ActionAid Tanzania and from Lawyer’s Environmental Action Team called on the rural people to give more land rights to women. They emphasized that theme during a training program related to natural resource conservation, land rights issues, gender equality, and land use planning held in the village of Ilemba, which is in the rural part of the Sumbawanga District, in the Rukwa Region.

The training, supported by the WWF – Netherlands and the IUCN National Committee of the Netherlands, was offered free of charge to the villagers. The goals of the sponsoring organizations were to help the people realize their rights, which should lead them to provide lands to their wives and daughters. The training session, the sponsors hope, will encourage women to demand their rights and encourage them to seek legal help when they face discrimination in land-related disputes.

Two Sumbawanga women in the regional hospital

Two Sumbawanga women in the regional hospital (Photo by The White Ribbon Alliance on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Haki Ardhi, from ActionAid Tanzania, urged the women in the Rukwa Region and the neighboring Katavi Region to join groups that will allow them to demand their rights more effectively. He said that by uniting, the women would strengthen their advocacy and lobbying. He emphasized the importance of valuing land ownership from both the husband’s and the wife’s perspectives, which will help prevent conflicts from developing that might cloud future family relationships.

This latest report continues a pattern of actions and news reporting from southwestern Tanzania about gender relations, particularly gender-discrimination and occasional acts of violence. Updating studies by anthropologists such as Willis (1989b) and Smythe (2006) about the traditional patterns of gender equality among the Fipa, the news reports over the past six years show an increasing concern for the issue—and the ways the Fipa villagers are handling them.

First ladies Salma Kikete of Tanzania, center, and Laura Bush, U.S., right

First ladies Salma Kikete of Tanzania, center, and Laura Bush, U.S., right (Photo by the Embassy of the U.S. in Wikimedia, in the public domain)

In early March 2013 a news story reported that the woman who was then Tanzania’s First Lady, Salma Kikwete, went to Sumbawanga and spoke to more than 1,000 kids at a girl’s school about the importance of women getting an education. She urged the girls to make other choices than getting pregnant and dropping out of school.

A review of the news stories shows that the women in that section of Tanzania have been getting more assertive as the years have passed. In April 2017, a village man was severely punished by the village women for the crime, in their eyes, of publicly abusing his mother. For publicly insulting and shaming his mom, according to a news story, the village women tied the man, pushed  him into a pit filled with cow dung, made him parade  around the village nearly naked, and so on. They punished him for much of the day. Later in 2017, another news story reported on the fact that Fipa men are complaining to the police that the women are beating them.

We can’t be sure but it might appear from the scattering of news reports that the Fipa and the rest of Tanzanian society are trying to improve the local gender relationships. However, Hamsi Mathias Machangu, the author of a recent journal article on the killing of old women accused of witchcraft among the Fipa, came to very different conclusions. The pattern of violence against elderly women seems to be increasing.

Machangu blames the growing gender violence on a variety of reasons such as increasing rural poverty, government policies that have promoted male domination over females, the denial of education to girls, and the concentration of rural people into more heavily settled communities. There are clearly a variety of factors impinging on the gender relationships of the rural Fipa people.

Mining in the Saranda Forest

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Mining for iron ore is destroying the Saranda Forest in the southern part of India’s Jharkhand state and causing serious health problems for the Birhor living in it. An article in the environmental news website Mongabay.com last week describes the growing destruction of the Sal trees, which dominate the forest. It is considered to be the largest sal forest in Asia.

Sal trees (Shorea robusta) such as this one are large, dominant forest giants in India

Sal trees (Shorea robusta) such as this one are large, dominant forest giants in India (Photo by Pankaj Oudhia in Wikipedia, Creative Commons license)

The journalist, Gurvinder Singh, interviews a 22-year old Birhor man named Krishna Birhor who complains that pollution from the mining causes him and numerous other Bihor people in his village, Tatiba, in the West Singhbhum District of the state, to have bouts of fever and vomiting. He gathers herbs from the nearby sal forest to help cure his illnesses but he realizes that it is only a matter of time before the trees are all cut down.

Krishna adds that the mining companies refuse to hire the young tribal people like him because they are not qualified for the jobs.He has been selling herbs that he gathers in the forest, “but the mining has been destroying everything,” he says. “Thousands of trees have been chopped off for mining while our plight has been ignored.” He says that the Birhor die silently every day and nobody cares. All that matters are the truckloads of iron ore going out of the iron mines in the forest.

A Birhor man

A Birhor man (Screen capture from the video “Birhor—a Tribe Displaced for Nothing” by Video Volunteers on YouTube, Creative Commons license)

Tatiba village has about 200 Birhor, many of whom also complain of pollution-related illnesses. The remoteness of the village and the bad roads combine to make nearby health service providers almost inaccessible. The water is so badly polluted that the people have to rely on water from tanker trucks provided by the mining companies. An article from March 2017 also described the dire poverty of Tatiba and the requests by the Birhor living there for a decent cemetery so they could bury their dead.

The bulk of last week’s Mongabay article focuses on the natural wonders of the Saranda Forest, which are rapidly being lost to the mines. With a total area of 82,000 hectares, an estimated 17.6 percent of it, 14,410 hectares, is now destroyed by the mining. Wildlife in the forest has suffered as well as the human inhabitants. An elephant census in the forest in 2010 sighted 253 elephants while a research study done by the Wildlife Institute of India in 2015-16 failed to find even one.

The forests of Jharkhand (Photo by Kaurun in Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)

The forests of Jharkhand (Photo by Kaurun in Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)

The research team found that the biodiversity in the forest has diminished also. The researchers found only 19 species of mammals compared to earlier studies that had found 30. The number of bird species has also diminished from 148 found earlier to only 116 species more recently.

The lengthy Mongabay piece mentions the various commissions that have investigated the situation without resolving the major issue:  the forest sits atop a huge treasure trove of iron ore, one of the largest in the world at over 2,000 million tons of ore, off of which many agencies and corporate actors have made and will continue to make huge fortunes.

School children threatened by constant truck traffic on the roads: that’s their problem. A river that has mostly gone dry due to the absence of forest cover: but so what. Villagers who have to bathe in and drink from polluted streams: who cares? It is not a hopeful story about a tropical forest or its inhabitants.

 




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