What It’s Like to Be a Woman in Tanzania

March 25, 2015
What It’s Like to Be a Woman in Tanzania

One of the biggest struggles a woman in Tanzania faces is living with the cultural attitudes towards women. As a strong, independent, educated young woman who is known for being blunt and for always speaking her mind, dealing with the attitude towards women here has been difficult.

Take that young woman and place her into a culture that believes that the opinion of women is probably wrong and always to be ignored, and fireworks explode on the inside. I have had to make a number of changes in the way I would normally go about my daily life. I have learned to bite my tongue, to accept when my opinion is ignored, and to date in a completely different way.

What It’s Like to Be a Woman in Tanzania

I am a feminist—I believe in the equality of men and women, and in equality for every person. Most of the locals here have never heard the word feminist, and culturally the concept is foreign to them. While the men here are in many ways Westernised, they have no acceptance of the concept of equality. Everyday situations arise where my mind is screaming that I should be shown some respect, but I understand that I have chosen to be here and it is not my place to try and alter the cultures and traditions.

If she cannot carry a baby to term the danger is not only that her husband will leave her, but also her whole family and her friends might ostracize her.

Standing up for what I believe in often makes me the ‘crazy white woman’—a title I accept if it means that I am not being tricked into paying inflated prices or buying into corruption. Day to day living though requires tongue biting, and not making a scene.

What It’s Like to Be a Woman in Tanzania

I have been here for three years now, and I have found it much more difficult to make local female friends than male. I think one of the reasons is that I meet fewer local women than men. They are not running schools or orphanages, or in fact businesses in general, so I meet fewer and rarely have an opportunity to socialise with them. The attitude of many I have met see us all as disrespectful white women, who won’t be here for long.

It is acceptable for men to cheat, but completely unacceptable for women.

It is also seen as a women’s job to successfully carry children. A young woman with whom I worked has miscarried four children. She is so scared that she is unable to do her ‘duty’ and her husband will leave her. If she cannot carry a baby to term the danger is not only that her husband will leave her, but also her whole family and her friends might ostracize her. Nothing anyone can say or do will help her with this.

What It’s Like to Be a Woman in Tanzania

What It’s Like to Be a Woman in Tanzania

Most Tanzanian men have several girlfriends—and the married ones, several wives. Cheating in their relationships is an everyday occurrence. It is acceptable for men to cheat, but completely unacceptable for women. In most cases, this is how it works here. In the cross cultural relationships I have witnessed here, or been a part of, trust is a significant issue. That and the fact that women in Tanzania should not question what her man chooses to tell her—to do so is to show disrespect.

It is difficult to reconcile the woman you are, with the woman you need to be to survive. It is a steep learning curve—knowing when to stand up for yourself, and when to let it go.

The culture here reminds me of western culture sixty or more years ago, when women rarely working outside the home. They cooked and cleaned, while the men took care of business. So it is here—for the most part.

A woman coming to Africa needs to be ready for this piece of culture. It is difficult to reconcile the woman you are, with the woman you need to be to survive. It is a steep learning curve—knowing when to stand up for yourself, and when to let it go. I am grateful for technology, and the ability to stay in contact with the women in my other life at home. Without having them there, I would find it difficult to survive here.

This is What It’s Like to Be a Woman in Tanzania

Related Reading

Romance, Health, and Safety in Zanzibar: A Conversation with Katrina Marks

Have you traveled to Tanzania? What were you impressions? Email us at editor@pinkpangea.com for information about sharing your experience with the Pink Pangea community. We can’t wait to hear from you.

This is What It’s Like to Be a Woman in Tanzania photo credits: Pip Harvey Ross




About Pip Harvey Ross

Pip Harvey RossAfter volunteering in Arusha, Tanzania in 2012 Pip’s life changed forever. Three years later she is living in Arusha working for her NGO called Many Shades Inc, which aims to open a series of Children’s Homes and transform the lives of children living in poverty. She is also an avid travel photographer, law student and smiler.

13 thoughts on “What It’s Like to Be a Woman in Tanzania

  1. Avatar
    December 2, 2018

    Which organization did you volunteer with? Do you need any help with your NGO?
    I enjoyed your article. Thanks!

  2. Avatar
    February 23, 2018

    Hi Pip,
    I’ve read your article with keen interest and noted one thing which I want to comment on.
    The reason views of women are often ignored is down to the substance which they possess. For a long time, Education, Money and Wealth(and not Looks) have dominated on the list of people’s comparative advantages in our society. Believe you me, If one fares badly on the above stuff, they’re deemed non-influential and almost useless by those that score high on the same. Give a woman a good education…she’ll find a well paying job, accumulate wealth hence boosting her social status and her voice can NEVER be ignored. She’ll command the same respect men have out there because she’s independent and influential…She’ll have a say in the aspects that matter most in our lives be it Politics, Economics, Family and just about everything. A beautiful but illiterate woman may only appeal in the bedroom but not the public domain. So the problem is not necessarily the oppressive men per se. While not condoning the unacceptable behaviour of some of the men, the blame should be put on women as well for not putting so much effort in breaking off those chains society put on them.

  3. Avatar
    September 26, 2017

    I am Australian and was with at Tanzanian man (I use the word man lightly) for 4.5 years. I found out that we had also married with children! How did I find this out when he was charged with rape of a child under the age of 14 years old and impregnated her! Due to the laws in TZ he was give the right to decide on his sentencing 40 years in jail or marry her, he married her. The victim expelled from school and not allowed to be educated due to the shame SHE brought on the family!!! The moment I found this out I was obviously physically sick and ended all contact even though I was still his wifey in his mind. Moving on 2 years I tried another relationship with a Tanzania man in Australia, it came to light that he was separated (not legally) had a girl friend and was on charges for sexual assault and attempted rape of a TZ girl. No more African men! I went black and sure as hell not going back!!!!

    • Avatar
      Fidel Sims K
      March 14, 2018

      I would like to say thank to you all who had that chance to visit Tanzania and also I had an experience about Tanzania culture. Inspire of your experience there is something that I could to say regarding the point of relationship, while reading the comment I was shocked to fall on a comment an Australian girl or woman I don’t know but my focus goes straight to her message, she said; she has been in relationship with twice with Tanzanian guy but unfortunately it never walk out for her. She made wrong choice which lately cost her but instead of her to understand that it can happen for both men and women to make wrong choice and to be found with a wrong one day, but the amazed things she is saying is that, she has decided no African anymore. So let’s be wise and intelligent is it possible after your own understanding th a two Austrian girls or guy can represent all European around the world? Or is it possible to judge Africa because two guy who disappointed you? Woman I want you to apologize for you have said regarding other innocence African. And also I apologize to yourself as well because, there is nothing you did not to bring change to that society who need your help for change. Learn to not quite fast but seek the fact and understand the situation before you quite.

  4. Avatar
    April 5, 2017

    sorry about the question marks “?’… it s typo error… ?… suppose commer??? or full stop?.?

  5. Avatar
    April 5, 2017

    hi toyi?hawa?

    sorry to hear abt it…but cheer up pls…

    nowsaday tanzania men are different ?a lot of them been gone thru good education n knowledge. They are more understanding now?of course not all. i was very lucky i met my lover who was also tanzania . at first?i was scared too abt african men as what ive read thru from internet. but after being get intouch wt him?he as tanzania man really bravo n modern?who hopes to have same equal treatment with ladies.

    so pls cheer up?tomorrow always better than today?you will have better luck ?better fate?better man?all the best soon.

    God blessed u?Amen?


  6. Avatar
    March 22, 2017

    Hi Pip,
    I am not sure your nationality or where you based in western countries. And wheather you live in the city or in deprived areas.
    Tanzania culture differe as the rest of other countries in Africa. Similarly, I can not generalise Scottish culture and English culture that are the same…if I do I will be wrong.
    Secondly, I can not either compare or generalise how educated women and those live in the cities that are treated
    equally with those women
    married in deprived areas…if I
    do I will be wrong too.
    I understand tha you have worked with the community for few months in Arusha as volunteering…enough experience, but, you did not understand their culture and how really African culture worjs.

    I agree with you when say you are not intend to adopt their culture because it too awkward for you. I totally agreed on that as no one would like to change his/her culture or adopt a new cultire they disagree with it.

    Similarly, I find hard to adopt English or Scottish cultire despite living in the UK for more than 20 years. However, if you was in accademic level the time when you was volunteering…you could understand more details. But, I am sorry you was just a A-level or undergradute students and you was only interested in work experiences.

    • Pip Harvey Ross
      Pip Harvey Ross
      March 22, 2017

      Hi Timo,

      This article was intended to highlight the differences that I discovered between my life in western society versus the 4 years that I spent living in Tanzania.

      I have read through your comment a few times, but I am not really understanding the point you are trying to make here – maybe you could clarify for me?

  7. Avatar
    Basil M Bintamanyire
    March 7, 2017

    Marrying a non-Africa man is not a solution to the problems mentioned by our friend Toyi. It only shows how you are. Culture cannot be changed by marring a white or a red person. It can be changed in many ways (1) Intermingling through marriage ( marriage of different tribes but all Africans).
    (2) Immigration : a) When Europeans migrated to America and settled, obviously Red Indians’ culture changed. b)Culture in cities is quite different with village culture.
    3) Education is another solution of cultural change. We have to encourage parents to give both genders good education especially Religious education where they will know that God created a man and woman as his assistant not a servant. From the books of The Lord one will know where he/she stands and his/her activities.

  8. Avatar
    August 25, 2016

    Thank you for sharing

  9. Avatar
    August 25, 2016

    Tanzania woman
    Everything you said here it true and this is the reasons why I deseder not to marry an Tanzania man
    No way
    Not just only Tanzania man
    I think most of all African man are like that.

    I love my Tanzania but man I wish the can respect their woman’s and Value them


    • Avatar
      Fidel Sims K
      March 14, 2018

      Hi, It is painfully to hear saying that all African man are same. Let me ask from which book did you read and they told that all African man are same? Which other countries of Africa have you explore and approove that all African are the same. When you don’t know anything learn to speak only what you know because it will be more wise and respectful to your person. Take your time Hawa to know more than what you know.

  10. Avatar
    toyi dadi
    September 30, 2015

    it took 30mins to think what am going to share,
    being African woman its not only how you respect culture values but also how you portly your culture, Tanzanian women does not differ from other African countries,
    Tanzania has more than 25 tribes , the patriarchy system under the umbrella of traditional rituals leaves women with scars in their heart, the culture of silence left women with whom am i?
    giving birth every two years
    care taker(family well being)
    listener(children tears)
    dower( accomplish all husbands plans without doubt)
    i would like to share more on women’s voice

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *