Executive summary

Discrimination in social institutions – the established set of formal and/or informal laws, norms and practices that govern behaviour in society – continue to severely hamper empowerment opportunities for women and girls in Tanzania. Results show that discrimination in social institutions is higher in Zanzibar than in Mainland Tanzania as well as in rural areas than in urban ones. Large variations exist across Tanzania’s 31 regions, which reflect the persistence of certain discriminatory social norms and practices in certain areas of the country, an understanding of which should guide the design and implementation of policies to promote women’s and girls’ empowerment across all aspects of their lives.

The analysis presented in the SIGI Country Report for Tanzania also shows that discrimination persists in the family sphere and also affects women’s civil and economic liberties. Deeply entrenched barriers to gender equality manifest in the form of girl child marriage and bride price, unequal intra-household dynamics, violence against women, and lack of reproductive autonomy, access to agricultural land, freedom of movement and access to justice. Despite impressive progress over the last 20 years – for example, lower prevalence of girl child marriage and growth in the political representation of women – Tanzania still has a long road ahead to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the targets related to gender equality. The issues measured by the SIGI Country Report for Tanzania are at the root of the restrictions that women and girls face, and underpin unequal outcomes across all spheres of life including employment, entrepreneurship, health and education. A holistic approach is therefore critical in addressing them.

Women’s participation in paid work is socially accepted and translates into a high level of labour force participation, albeit slightly lower than that of men. Yet, several underlying factors continue to constrain women’s employment in Tanzania, either by imposing limitations or regulating women’s opportunities and access to certain types of jobs. In particular, social norms dictate that men should control whether a woman is allowed to work outside the household. Social norms and views on traditional gender roles in the household also dictate that men should be breadwinners and that women should undertake the majority of unpaid care and domestic work. As women are still expected to work for pay, these norms impose a double burden of paid and unpaid work, often forcing them to make labour-related choices that offer a degree of flexibility in order to balance paid work with household duties. As a consequence, unpaid family workers or own-account workers account for a significant proportion of women’s employment, exposing them to a high degree of vulnerability. Meanwhile, women’s lower levels of education compared to men limit their access to quality jobs and formal employment. Evidence suggests that these educational differences stem partly from norms favouring the education of boys over that of girls. Finally, social norms and biases ascribe certain types of professions to women – for instance, being a maid, a housekeeper or a midwife. In the non-agricultural sector, these biases result in a segregated labour force with a high concentration of women in sectors of low productivity, such as food and accommodation services or wholesale and retail activities. All of these sectors have been severely affected by the COVID-19 crisis.

In Tanzania, where agriculture accounts for one-third of the national output and two-thirds of total employment, ownership of agricultural land is essential. Yet, significantly fewer women than men own agricultural land, particularly in rural areas and regions dominated by the agricultural sector. In cases where women do own land, they are more likely than men to be joint owners, which entails a lower degree of control. Women’s low ownership of land primarily results from two distinct discriminatory social norms: (i) customs dictating that land belongs to men shape inheritance practices by favouring sons over daughters and other male family members over widows; and (ii) social norms influence intra-household dynamics and establish the man as the family’s primary decision maker. Furthermore, evidence suggests that as women marry, formal ownership of agricultural land is partly transferred to their husband, limiting their control over critical productive assets.

Achieving gender equality in the private and family spheres is a prerequisite to realising women’s empowerment in other key areas. However, discriminatory social norms and traditional roles are often strongest and the most difficult to challenge in the household and the family. In Tanzania, gender discrimination at the family level is particularly significant in three areas: girl child marriage, uneven distribution of unpaid care and domestic work, and unequal decision-making power.

Despite progress in eradicating girl child marriage, the practice remains prevalent in certain parts of Tanzania, with serious consequences for women’s and girls’ health and human capital accumulation, notably through higher adolescent pregnancy rates and lower educational attainment. At the national level, 19% of women aged 15 years and older have been married before the age of 18, and 16% of women aged 20-24 years have been married before the age of 18. Social acceptance of child marriage plays a fundamental role in upholding this harmful practice, particularly in rural areas. Discriminatory social norms that limit women’s agency and autonomy in decisions over their own marriage also increase the likelihood of child marriage. At the same time, norms guiding social perceptions of what being a “real” woman entails play an important role in the persistence of girl child marriage. Marriage as an institution provides a social status, which encourages girls to marry at a very young age.

Meanwhile, severe imbalances between men and women exist within the household. As noted above, Tanzanian women shoulder a disproportionate share of unpaid care and domestic work, particularly basic and routine household tasks, spending three times more time on such tasks than men. They also undertake a significant share of paid work, albeit under the control of men. Men are also the primary decision makers within the household including on critical decisions related to children’s health and education, household spending and purchases, and control of the household’s income. These imbalances stem directly from deeply entrenched discriminatory attitudes and traditional views of women’s and men’s roles in the household. Expectations regarding unpaid care and domestic work are transmitted from a young age with many young girls helping their mothers with basic household tasks. Social norms also place men in charge of the household and task them with protecting and exercising guardianship over female family members.

Addressing violence against women and girls is a key policy priority in Tanzania, with national action plans in both Mainland Tanzania and Zanzibar dedicated to addressing this issue. More than half of all women in Tanzania have suffered from at least one form of violence in their lifetime – either intimate partner violence (IPV) and/or non-partner violence. In concrete terms, 23% of ever-partnered women in Tanzania reported experiencing some form of IPV over the past year, and 48% of women reported experiencing such violence at least once in their lifetime. Younger women and those with children are particularly at risk. Persistent violence against women and girls is rooted in social norms justifying violence, which are even stronger among women than men. Half of the population believes that a man can be justified in hitting or beating his wife under certain circumstances. Persistent non-partner violence committed by family members and authority figures such as teachers, likely during childhood, may also perpetuate wide acceptance of violence and cycles of violence. Restrictive masculinities that support men’s control over women underpin these high prevalence rates of violence against women and broad social acceptance of this trend across Tanzania.

A specific and extreme form of violence against women, female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM/C), is confined mainly to certain regions of the country, and is practised particularly in northern Tanzania. Overall, more than 2 million Tanzanian women report having been excised or having experienced FGM/C, but the practice is being progressively abandoned. This decrease is underpinned by attitudes that support its abandonment and general awareness and support for legislation that prohibits FGM/C, which stems from recent efforts on behalf of the government to enforce the ban.

Discriminatory social norms and gendered power imbalances also restrict women’s and girls’ reproductive autonomy. Many women of reproductive age continue to face unmet needs for family planning. This issue is particularly acute among young women who are also more likely to use less effective methods of contraception. Women’s unmet needs are partly explained by attitudes restricting their ability to decide whether to use contraception and norms rooted in restrictive masculinities which dictate that “real” men control sexual and reproductive choices. In the face of such limited decision-making power, limited agency and spousal opposition, many women use contraceptives covertly. These inequalities and power imbalances between women and men and boys and girls often result in unwanted pregnancies and high rates of adolescent pregnancy, both of which are widespread in Tanzania.

Specific actions and policies in the different areas highlighted by the SIGI Country Report for Tanzania are essential to address the current gender gaps and inequalities that women and girls face. The thematic chapters of the report suggest immediate as well as long-term actions and policies that Tanzania could develop and implement to achieve its gender-related objectives.

Beyond these thematic recommendations, holistically addressing discriminatory social institutions is critical to reinforcing and achieving the ambitious gender equality goals laid out in the Tanzania Development Vision 2025 and the Zanzibar Development Vision 2050. To fully integrate gender equality into the country’s policies and programmes, Tanzania should therefore take into consideration the following four recommendations:

  • Update laws and eliminate legal provisions that discriminate against women and girls, notably regarding access to agricultural land, inheritance, girl child marriage, violence against women and female genital mutilation.

  • Design, implement and support initiatives that seek to transform discriminatory social norms into gender-equitable norms. More specifically, recognise that the transformation of social norms takes time and consistent commitment, prioritise multisectoral programmes alongside structural interventions, leverage existing educational structures such as schools and health centres, engage with all relevant stakeholders at all levels, include multiple programme components and ensure that interventions are delivered by trained facilitators and in the local language.

  • Integrate a gender perspective across all government ministries and sectors, including gender-responsive budgeting.

  • Continue investment in sex-disaggregated data collection to identify gender gaps and gain a better understanding of how social norms evolve.


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