Samia ?Suluhu Hassan brings a new dawn to women leaders

Tanzania's new President Samia Suluhu Hassan takes oath of office following the death of her predecessor John Pombe Magufuli at State House in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania March 19, 2021. [Reuters]

Gender inequality remains a global challenge to women seeking political leadership. With several countries making progress to achieve gender parity, the swearing-in of Samia Suluhu Hassan as the president of Tanzania, brings a new dawn to women’s leadership in Africa. 

Born on January 17, 1960, a native of Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous archipelago, Suluhu made history of being the first female president in East Africa. She took over power after her predecessor John Pombe Magufuli died in office.

Suluhu completed her secondary education in 1977, a time when many girls were not allowed to go to school in Tanzania. She advanced her studies and graduated with advance diploma in Public Administration from the Institute of Development Management (Mzumbe University) in the year 1986.

In 1992-1994, she graduated with a postgraduate diploma in economics from the University of Manchester. In 2015, she obtained her MSc in Community Economic Development through a joint-program between the Open University of Tanzania and the Southern New Hampshire.

Suluhu started her political career in 2000 when she was elected as special Sect Member to the Zanzibar House of Representatives. She became the only high-ranking woman minister in the Cabinet when President Amani Karume appointed her as a minister.

In 2010, she contested for the Makunduchi parliamentary seat and won by a landslide after getting more than 80 per cent of votes. President Jakaya Kikwete appointed her Minister of the state for Union Affairs. In 2014, she was elected as the Vice Chairperson of the Constituent Assembly tasked with drafting the country’s constitution.

Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) presidential nominee John Pompe Magufuli chose her to be his running mate during 2015 presidential elections. She became the first female presidential running mate in entire history of CCM party.

On November 5, 2015, she became the first female vice president in the history of Tanzania when Magufuli was declared duly elected president.

In the history East Africa, Suluhu is the second woman to become vice president after Specioza Naigara Wandira of Uganda who was in office from 1994 to 2003.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, women’s participation in politics stands at (23.8%). Rwanda is amongst the highest globally with (61.3%) of women holding parliamentary seats in the National Assembly. Since 2008 elections, Rwanda became the first developing country to have majority of women in the National Assembly.

In Kenya, quite a number of women leaders were elected competitively to various political offices from gubernatorial, Senators, Members of the National Assembly and county assemblies during 2017 elections. This was a great milestone on women participation in politics under a new dispensation.

During 2015 Summit on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), world leaders adopted that women’s empowerment and equal participation in politics is essential to achieve the SDGs by 2030.

According to a global monitoring report by UN-Women Agency on Gender Equality in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals, the agency made it clear: “There can be no Sustainable Development without Gender Equality.”

With women facing a number of challenges in their quest for political power, Ms Kaja Kallas are among few women leaders breaking political ceiling in a male dominated societies. She was elected as Estonia’s Head of State and Government and took office on 26th January 2021.

When US Vice President Kamala Harris congratulated Suluhu she underscored the importance of women scaling up their participation in political processes.

-The writer comments on topical issues