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Passed Electoral Bills Give No Hope for Wider Women’s Participation in Leadership in Tanzania

Women rights activists call for equal representation of women in parliament to replace the Special Seats arrangement, which they think undermines women’s participation in leadership.

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The three bills concerning election matters, which the parliament passed on February 2, 2024, will not produce legal frameworks that can bring about transformative changes in the representation of women in the August House.

Women’s rights movements in Tanzania had suggested the abolition of Special Seats. They proposed that each constituency be represented by two people, a man and a woman, to enable equal representation of the two genders in the parliament through constituent votes. Still, Members of Parliament (MPs) did not consider such demands.

The activists’ proposed model of representation would also decrease 94 MPs from the current 393 Members of Parliament (MPs), thus saving billions of shillings of citizens’ tax money.

The three bills passed in Parliament were the President, Members of Parliament, and Councilors’ Elections Bill, 2023; the Bill for the Amendment of the Law on Political Parties, 2023; and the Bill for the National Election Commission, 2023.

Activists from the Women and Constitution, Election and Leadership coalition, bringing together 200 networks and civil society, and Women’s and Girls’ Rights organisations, argue that Special Seats perpetuated discrimination against women because Special Seats MPs are treated as second-class MPs.

Less representation

The current Tanzania Parliament (2020-2025) has a total of 393 MPs, of which 264 are elected from constituencies, of whom only 26 are women (approximately ten per cent), and 113 women MPs are from Special Seats. Thus, in total, the parliament has 142 women who make up 36 per cent of all MPs.

READ MORE: Activists in Zanzibar Call for More Women’s Participation in Leadership

The 113 Special Seat MPs are not allowed to take up the role of chairperson of Parliamentary Standing Committees, chairperson of Council or hold the position of Prime Minister. Likewise, they are not entitled to receive constituency development funds to enable them to implement citizen-centred development projects.

This means that although all MPs are paid a salary, sitting allowances, and gratuity using taxpayers’ money, not all are allocated responsibilities in constituencies to better the lives of citizens so that they can be accountable to voters.

“All this done to women who become MPs through Special Seats is gender discrimination, and it is against the Constitution of our country,” says Prof Ruth Meena, the former women coalition chairperson who for many years has been fighting for the rights of women to participate in the decision-making bodies.

Prof Meena says Article 12(1) of Tanzania’s constitution says, “All human beings are born free, and all are equal.” Article 13 (1-5) further elaborates by prohibiting all forms of discrimination, including gender discrimination.

Notably, the fact that Special Seats MPs are paid using public coffers but are not accountable to voters means “misuse of taxpayers’ money,” argues Gemma Akilimali, the women coalition member who championed a campaign that enabled the government to mainstream gender budgeting.

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For example, the Sh16 million paid to an MP as a monthly salary currently means that within five years (2020-2025), the salaries of 113 Special Seats MPs, the government will lose more than Sh108 billion taxpayer money, and it will continue to be so after the 2025 general election.

Considering that MPs are also paid sitting allowances and end of five years gratuity, the public funds lost in five years by incurring the costs of keeping 113 Special Seats MPs with no constituencies in parliament is more than Sh200 billion.

Representation through constituencies

The women’s rights coalition argues that having two people, a man and a woman, representing a constituency is possible if, for example, administrative districts are turned into electoral constituencies.

Tanzania presently has 138 districts, of which 128 are in the Tanzania Mainland (Tanganyika), and ten are in Zanzibar. If these 138 districts are turned into constituencies, the parliament will have 276 MPs, half men and half women, elected by voters from these constituencies.

To ensure inclusive representation in parliament, electoral laws enacted as a result of the three bills could also set provisions allowing people with special needs (disabilities) to have representation in parliament based on gender equality.

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For example, for people with visual, hearing and physical disability, each group could be allocated at least four seats in parliament together, making 12 MPs, six women and six men representing people with disability.

Undoubtedly, some people may claim that having representation in parliament is expensive for people with special needs because they will also need guides. However, this argument is invalid because the country’s constitution embraces equality.

“What is more costly between buying a luxury car for a minister worth millions of shillings using taxpayers’ money and providing a visually impaired MP with assistance?” argues Maria Challe, an activist with albinism.

Challe argues that “persons with albinism can be constituency MPs and do a better job than many people who do not have any disability.”

Even if enacted electoral laws would consider the Attorney General as an MP and ten MPs appointed by the President based on gender equality, the parliament under the activists’ proposed system of two people, men and women, representing one constituency and administrative districts converted into constituencies, the parliament would have total 299 MPs which is far less than as it is now, 393 MPs.

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Importantly, to ensure the elected men and women MPs can conduct their law-making job effectively, the passed election bills should have also stipulated the minimum education requirement for MPs.

“Level of education of MPs is crucial; it is not enough for an MP to know just how to read and write considering that laws enacted by the parliament have far-reaching consequences to the nation,” noted Hilda Stuart Dadu, Advocate and a national Coordinator of the Coalition for Women Human Rights Defenders Tanzania.

Since secondary education has become more or less compulsory, “Form Four with good pass grades should be the minimum level of education requirement for an MP,” suggests Dr Helen Kijo-Bisimba, a renowned human rights activist.

However, for the activists’ transformative proposal to be realistic, “Minor changes are required in the constitution,” noted Mary Ndaro, Deputy Chairperson of the Women Activists’ Coalition.


The model that women activists have proposed has several advantages not only to women themselves but also to the nation at large. Firstly, the costs of serving MPs will decrease because the parliament will have 299 MPs, 94 MPs less than the current parliament, constituting 393 MPs.

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Secondly, gender equality will be realised in the parliament by doing away with the Special Seats arrangement, an outdated affirmative action model and replacing it with constituent votes whereby a constituency is represented by two people, a man and a woman.

Thirdly, the quality of parliamentarians will improve, thus improving the value of laws produced by the House. Fourthly, gender-based violence that women experience during election campaigns may become history.

Fifthly, elected MPs, men and women, will become a helpful development resource as each will work hard and creatively to better the lives of their constituent voters because all will be accountable to voters.

Ananilea Nkya is a veteran journalist and gender and human rights activist based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. She holds a PhD on Tanzanian News Media Engagement with National Development Issues. She is available at or on X as @AnanileaN

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One Response

  1. Well articulated article. It represent women and gender activists voices.
    Let’s press on. We still have a long journey ahead.

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