“There is no true education without creating independent, proud, Tanzanian women,” Mama Kamm told a crowd at the Alliance Française in Arusha, May 6.
Mama Kamm was speaking as a Woman in Resistance. French photographer Pierre-Yves Ginet began photographing Femmes en Résistance in 1998. Ginet was inspired to photograph empowered women in order to combat the images of victimized and objectified women he saw around him.
Now, Ginet’s photos are travelling across the world. In each country, a local photographer takes photographs of local women. Mama Kamm was one of six women photographed in Tanzania. Here, older women who are respected are called Mama. Maria Kamm is definitely respected.
Mama Kamm was the headmistress of the Weru Weru Girls’ secondary school from 1970 to 1992. Attending secondary school is a determining factor in the future of Tanzanian children. While 96 per cent of the country’s children are enrolled in primary school, only a quarter of students attend secondary school, according to UNICEF. Primary school is free, but secondary school is not.
For Mama Kamm, female empowerment depends on female education. “Through education, we can really develop a confident Tanzanian woman, who can stand on her feet and express her opinion,” she said.
The success of Mama Kamm’s graduates is a further testament to the value of their education. Her students have become ambassadors, parliamentarians and lawyers.
Mama Kamm brought her fight against sexism from the classroom to the National Assembly. As a Member of Parliament from 1990 to 2000, she fought for a law to require a 30 per cent representation of women in the Tanzanian parliament. At the time, Mama Kamm was one of nine female MP’s. Today, thanks to the law that Mama Kamm advocated for, there are 102 female MP’s out of a total of 357.
“Do not be discouraged when you see that society does not approve of what you’re doing. Have courage and know that you have a duty. You have a duty to your society,” Mama Kamm said.
Laura Tarimo once listened to Mama Kamm’s inspirational advice every day when she was her student. Today, Tarimo has founded her own not-for-profit organization. Tia Nuru, meaning to illuminate in Swahili, builds sustainable housing projects in Arusha.
Tarimo, who is a proud Maasai, was raised to appreciate nature. As she saw Arusha becoming more industrial, she was inspired to create an organization that focuses on sustainable development.
“Arusha used to be a very small town full of trees and full of green, but this is changing very quickly as you can see. Arusha is growing fast and there are tall buildings everywhere. Some parts of town I go to, I don’t recognize, because there has been a really rapid change over the past few years. So, being in this changing environment, my question is what can we do to maintain some of that natural environment that we used to have. Our answers to those questions are Tia Nuru,” Tarimo said.
Nanyorii Sererenyi, also known as Sister Pculture, came to the Alliance Française to speak about the struggles of the younger generation. Sister Pculture has been a single mother to her daughter Lauren for four years.
While she says being a single mother, “ain’t a simple thing,” Sister Pculture now has a steady job as a reggae artist and is proud of herself. “Through all the rejection, deception and pain, here I am today as a strong woman,” she said.
Sister Pculture has a message for other women in her position. “All other mothers out there do not have to give up. No matter what obstacles may come, never give up.”
Mama Kamm also believes that strong women who believe in themselves will be the catalysts for change in Tanzania.
“Be proud of who you are – be you an orphan, be you a downtrodden woman. Know that these are my problems and they are going to be solved by me,” Mama Kamm said.