by Ben Taylor
Mama Zippora Shekilango, an education and gender activist, died in September at the age of 80.
Her late husband, Hussein Ramadhani Shekilango, is perhaps more famous, and even has a prominent road named after him (Shekilango Road in Dar es Salaam). But it would be a mistake to see Mama Shekilango as merely her husband’s wife.
For many years, she was a doughty campaigner on gender and education issues. First, she had been a teacher and headmistress at highly successful schools including Zanaki, Msalato, Kisutu, Jangwani and Forodhani.
It was her love of education, for the girl child to have equal chances of education as the boychild, that led her to become one of the country’s leading gender rights activists. Despite coming from a generation where both men and women celebrated patriarchy, she became instrumental in advocating for gender equality. Twenty-five years ago, out of conviction that gender equality was the way to inclusive development, with others she founded the Tanzania Gender Networking Programme (TGNP). The organisation has been at the forefront of the struggle for gender equality in Tanzania ever since.
Zitto Kabwe, the leader of the opposition party ACT Wazalendo reflected on her passing by quoting her: “Without quality education the nation will find itself stagnant and this is why it’s always important to meet and discuss the way forward.”
Saumu Jumanne, of the University of Dar es Salaam, paid tribute: “The knowledge that a teacher passes on to the students, more often than not outlives the teacher. Her values will live on. Hopefully as a nation we can learn from her dedication to teaching, gender activism and all in the spirit of patriotism. To the likes of Mama Zippora, Tanzania always came first in their doings. This is a great lesson to all of us in public services today.”