Zanzibar — WOMEN have made vast progress in development activities including farming and fishing. However, they still get lower pay compared to men.
Their lives and interests are dominated by men. Fortunately, there have been vibrant struggle to combat this form of oppression in recent years.
Through struggle, women have been wining the right to work and equal wages, participation in elections, leadership and many more.
In Zanzibar, men have allowed their wives to leave them in bed early in the morning and go fishing and drying sardine fish daily.
Almost all adult women (including widows, divorcees, students, and married) in Mkokotoni-Tondoo village in North 'A' on Unguja Islands have never remained idle in the past 25 years, in search for money.
Despite little pay, the women are engaged in drying sardine fish at Fungurefu area, coastal strip of Mkokotoni, where they have set up a 'permanent' fishing camp popular as Dago.
The women camp for several days, staying away from their homes. Ms Mwanahawa Juma Haji is one of the women conducting fish activities in Mkokotoni. She says it is the only main economic activity they rely on and have to wake-up between 2.00am and 6.am every day, depending on the tides of the ocean or sea waves.
Tides (locally known in Kiswahili language as banvuwa) are the rise and fall of sea levels caused by the combined effects of gravitational forces exerted by the Moon, Sun, and rotation of the Earth. Sardines (also known pilchards) are common names used to refer to various small, oily fish within the herring family of Clupeidae.
"During low tide, normally for about a week in a month, we have to wake up at 2am or 3am at dawn to collect sardines from the fishermen returning from night fishing, and during high tides we have to wake up at 6am daily.
It is quite a challenging work," said Ms Haji. Flanked by several charming women, Ms Haji told the 'Daily News' that major duties in drying fish include unloading the sardines from the fishing boat using buckets, then cook/ or boil, before spreading on mats on the floor to dry, and each stage of drying they are paid 500/- per bucket.
She said drying, sorting or winnowing, and putting in bags fetches 300/- and 200/- respectively per bucket. "The payment is very low compared to the workload, but there is nothing we can do about it because it is our major income. Something is better than nothing," Ms Haji said.
She said they use large saucepans (dubbed kingamuzi) for cooking the sardines. The biggest kingamuzi is used to cook 14 buckets of sardine, while six buckets of sardines is placed in small saucepan for cooking.
Speaking enthusiastically about her life in sardine drying, Ms Haji said that some women come from neighbouring villages like Nungwi to work at the camp, "But the work remains tough. We use firewood to cook, fortunately to some extent we are environmentally conscious," she said.
She said that braving heat from burning wood and hot sardine during cooking and spreading on mats for drying is a big challenge and it has been affecting our health. We have also to bear the scorching sun, wind, and rain, she said.
Ms Haji, a widow and mother of nine children said they work for men who own fishing boats and manage all the work done by the majority women.
However, some few women have also upgraded in the business by buying sardine, dry it and sell directly to the buyers from the abroad. She said the price of a bucket of sardine has increased from 5,000/ to between 10,000/- and 13,000/- depending on the season/or weather, for example during windy season fish catch declines and price hikes.
"This business is good, but one needs to have enough money for investment. We sell dried sardines to buyers from DRC at the price of 4,000/= per kilogramme. We make a little profit, and some time a loss, because the buyers never want to increase buying price," she said.
She said that the demand for the sardines has always been very high, "the buyers want more than what we produce because the workload is big, yet we do not have facilities to deep fishing and drying the sardines."
The mother said that although the profit is small, it has enabled her to educate her nine children including the eldest daughter Ms Madina Mati Haji who has recently graduated in Human Resources from the Zanzibar University. Ms Mwanahawa Juma Haji said that she lost her first and second husband, a father to four children, before getting married to the second husband who also died after having five children.
"Both husbands were poor, and therefore I have been working all my life to run the family, clothing, hospital, and school requirements," she said.
"I am pleased that I have managed to care for my children until some are now grown seeking to be independent. Other Women in the sardine drying group have also benefited. Some women with fewer responsibilities have managed to build houses," Ms Haji said.
Ms Haji said that for all the past years they have been relying on men who go for fish catch and sale to women or hire women to do the processing of drying it for export abroad. "It is high time, we need our own fishing boat so that we can go out on our own to fish.
Political leaders in our constituency have not supported women enough. We want real economical empowerment," said the charming 46-year-old mother. Her University graduate daughter Ms Mati said, "I have been looking for employment since I graduated last year, but unfortunately no success. I need a job as soon as possible because I am eager to help my mother."
The community leader (Sheha) of Mkokotoni Mr Ame Haji Ame said that most of the women in the village are engaged in sardine drying, the only economical activity.
"The Women including young school students are engaged in sardines business mainly as labourers employed in the drying process. Unfortunately they are poorly paid, but it is the only sure employment for majority women," Sheha said. Mr Ame said the work contributes to environmental degradation but a group of environmentalists in the area have been raising awareness on conservation.
The awareness has helped to minimize cutting down of trees for firewood, and clearing land for drying sardines. "We also ask them not to deposit wastes recklessly," he said.
There has been mushrooming of sardines drying centres along the coastal areas of Zanzibar as environmentalists raise concern due to the consequences of the human activity on land.
Minister for Trade, Industries and Marketing Mr Nassor Mazrui, has for several times threatened to close the areas, but the decision was shelved due to the fact that sardines drying now employs many women from poor families in coastal areas.
Almost all the work is done by women, and men only go for fish catching, supervision and selling the dried sardines to buyers from DRC. The handling of money is done by men.
There are several uses of sardines, mainly for human consumption. But also fish meal made from sardines is used as animal feed, while sardine oil has many uses, including the manufacture of paint, varnish, and linoleum.
It is unclear where the business people from DRC take the sardine they buy from Zanzibar, it is assumed that they export and make more money.