Tanzanian women are still being pressurized to produce more children as the country’s president, John Magufuli has reiterated the need to have a higher birth rate to boost the economy.
Magufuli, who had earlier spoken against contraceptives, believes women should “set ovaries free” and give birth to more children to turn the East African country into a regional powerhouse, a move critics say would rather worsen poverty and inequality.
“When you have a big population you build the economy. That’s why China’s economy is so huge,” he told a gathering in his home town of Chato on Tuesday, citing India and Nigeria as other examples of countries that gained from such a move, reports Reuters.
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“I know that those who like to block ovaries will complain about my remarks. Set your ovaries free, let them block theirs,” he said.
Since taking office in November 2015, Magufuli has implemented cost-cutting measures across various sectors in his government, including restricting foreign travels for government officials and removing ghost workers from the government payroll in a bid to reduce government spending.
The country’s economy has sustained relatively high growth, averaging 6–7 per cent a year, over the past decade, statistics cited by Reuters said.
Tanzania is home to some 55.5 million people, according to the World Bank, an increase from 10 million when it gained independence in 1961. The country also has one of the world’s highest birth rates – around 5 children per woman while figures from the UN Population Fund, UNFPA, indicate that the population is growing by about 2.7 percent a year.
Most young people do not have jobs while most public schools and hospitals are overcrowded.
“High population growth in Tanzania means increased levels of poverty and income inequality,” a rights activist based in Dar es Salaam, who is among several others to criticise Magufuli’s latest remarks, told Reuters.
“Women’s ovaries should never be used as a tool for seeking economic prosperity,” the activist, who asked not to be named, said.
Most women in Tanzania use contraceptives to curb the high rates of births, but Magufuli is against that, saying that the country needs more people to build the economy.
Last year, Magufuli, who has two children, told a crowd at a public rally at Meatu in the Simiyu Region to stop birth control and produce many children to work on their farms.
He described those using family planning as lazy and afraid to work hard to feed a larger family, reports The Citizen.
“You people of Meatu keep livestock. You are good farmers. You can then feed your children. Why would you opt for birth control? These are my views, but I do not see any need for birth control in Tanzania,” he said.
“I have travelled to Europe and elsewhere and I have seen the side effects of birth control. In some countries, they are now struggling with declining population growth. They have no labour force,” he added in the presence of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) representative in Tanzania Jacqueline Mahon.
He called on them to keep producing children because the government is building hospitals that will improve maternal health.
This is the same president who upheld a controversial 2002 law in 2017 that bans pregnant schoolgirls from returning to school after giving birth. He also supported the order to arrest all pregnant schoolgirls to serve as a deterrent.
In January 2018, the authorities arrested five pregnant schoolgirls and their parents. They explained that the arrest was to ensure that they testified against those responsible. The Mwanza Regional Commissioner John Mongella issued the order at an education stakeholder meeting in December last year.
The reason behind their arrest was to end the growing teenage pregnancies in the country, prevent other girls from engaging in sexual activities and get the girls to testify against the culprits who are on the run, district official Mohammed Azizi told local media.
The country continues to deny its citizens human rights as the media, opposition parties and musicians have all been victims of the regime which has formulated laws that stifle dissent and violate freedom of expression.
Unfortunately, women are the most affected in Tanzania as the men propose the laws and they only have to obey.
This June, women became the target of certain unpopular decisions by the Magufuli administration after announcing moves to impose a tax on wigs and hair extensions.
Finance Minister Philip Mpango, in his budget speech in parliament, announced a 25 per cent tax on imported wigs and hair extensions and a 10% tax on those made locally. He said that these were part of measures aimed at increasing government revenue.
Those in support of the levy said it will make women keep their natural hair, but critics, largely women, felt the decision is mainly to hurt them.
“People love artificial hair. Why of all the things that could be taxed did they opt for wigs?” a popular Tanzanian importer of wigs, Annasatasia Sigera asked while speaking with the BBC.
For others, the measure could ruin relationships, as most men in Tanzania are used to seeing their wives with wigs and extensions, a trend that many young women have embraced.
Tanzanian women were also up in arms against the government’s decision to scrap the exemption on value-added tax placed on sanitary towels. Finance Minister Mpango explained that since that exemption was introduced, consumers had not benefited as businesses refused to reduce their prices, but women described the measure as unfair.