By Bernard Kihiyo
Empowerment refers as giving to somebody the strength and confidence to act on their own initiative like having the ability to make choices. The opposite of empowerment is disempowerment therefore to be disempowered implies to be denied choice.
Consumerism is the theory that advocates for promotion and protection of consumers’ needs and interests, therefore it is right to say consumerism is the key to citizen economic empowerment of poor and vulnerable consumers in any civilised and fair society.
Tanzania National Strategy for Growth and Reduction of poverty (NSGRP); aim on improvement of the quality of life and social well-being, with particular focus on the poorest and most vulnerable groups improved (e.g. education, survival, health) across geographic, income, age, gender and other groups are reduced. But the way I see it this is going to be a cumbersome task without incorporating philosophy of consumerism.
In the due cause this article will focus on the issue of women’s empowerment in the context of their powerlessness on protecting and promotion of their consumers’ rights, needs and interests (consumerism).
Women consumers’ rights violation can be viewed in the power relations that govern how consumers’ basic needs (goods and services) – are distributed and delivered in a society. These relations, position poor men and women as subordinate to, and dependent on, those with privileged access to these basic needs;- these includes politicians, manufacturers, producers, importers, distributors, service providers of goods and services in our economies.
However this power relation is likely to affect women and men differently because gender-related inequalities often intensify the effects of consumer rights violation. The most difficulty questions are;-
Ø Are women able to make key decisions about matters relating to sustainable consumerism on their own well-being, their children and the whole community?
Ø Do they have any influence on consumers’ matters relating to the community and society in which they live and is this influence decisive or merely symbolic?
Ø Are businesses entities and service providers do respect women’s values, dignity, needs and interests in the society?
Tanzania Consumer Advocacy Society (TCAS) had conducted a survey in five regions in April.2007 to know the magnitude of consumers’ awareness on their rights and the degree business accountability and responsiveness to consumers’ needs and interests in Tanzania.
In this survey, 3000 respondents were interviewed; whereby each group, men and women had 1500 respondents. The survey revealed that; out of all women respondents 1406 women showed to experience serious violation of their consumers’ rights while their male counterparts only 1139 responded to be deprived on their consumers’ rights in several ways.
The figure for women deprivation is shocking as it appears to be 93.7% of all women interviewed and 75.9% of all men interviewed. Therefore, based on this survey results; one can hypothesize that women are the most marginalised and unaware consumers group of all in Tanzania
Reasons for women victimization on acquiring their consumers’ right learnt to be low understanding of consumer’s rights and consumer’s education, lack of adequate food due to food poverty, lack of clean water, in some cases distance, inadequate and poor health service including reproductive health services and information, some complained to share bed during delivery, unsafe motherhood, attended with unskilled service providers, poor child health care.
Worse still respondents complained on; denial of right of an individual to make autonomous choice on services, lack of reliable consumer information, presence of consumer confusion due to misleading advertisement and in a lot of instances women are traditionally been excluded from family cash economy.
Moreover this survey revealed that; out of 688 respondents identified not having formal education 68% (N-340) are women and 32% (N-248) are men – reasons for women backwardness on education appeared to be early marriage as a result higher percentage of girls drop out of school compared to boys.
Other reasons being; poverty, old fashioned African customs and taboos that favour for male dominance in homes and community with lower sharing of decision-making with female partners. Female members of the household especial school girls are experiencing gender inequalities on doing domestic works instead of school works as compared to boys.
Consumers should be instructed in the proper use of goods and should be informed of the risks involved in intended or normally foreseeable use. Vital safety information on public services, provision of good quality services such as reproductive health which end up on safe motherhood free from pain, child care, more emphasis on foods safety and handling, healthy food and diet, clean and safe water, safe domestic appliances and other general consumer education should be clearly conveyed to consumers; especially female consumers for guaranteed family welfare.
Efforts should encouraged consumers especially female to monitor adverse practices, such as the adulteration of foods, false or misleading claims in marketing and service frauds in the effort of promoting and protecting their consumer rights.
There is considerable evidence that; access to consumer education helps on empowerment of consumers on protecting and promoting their consumers’ rights. Educating girls and women on consumer education in Tanzania will help on improving family economic well-being, open economic opportunities and social transformation. Educated women on consumerism were found to have more influence and power in bargaining on spending household income than those who are not.
In TCAS there will be consumers’ clubs for youths, manufacturers, producers, farmers, as well as women. Each club will discuss the role it plays in consumerism, however in women club education and discuss on how to raise women awareness and empowerment on their consumers’ rights will be emphasised at community and national level.
Through these clubs consumer education programs will be given to boost consumer awareness and creates more informed buying decisions, and hence empowering consumers on claiming for redress like filing, and winning, complaints of any abusive business practices.
The chairman of Tanzania Consumer Advocacy Society; Mr Daimon Mwakyembe is calling upon all national and international consumers associations, sectoral regulatory authorities, government ministries, human rights activists, NGOs to form a strong Consumers Private Public Partnership (CPPP) as a group of Voluntary Observers in Interest of Consumer Empowerment (VOICE) in Tanzania. VOICE will raise awareness, provide credible information, and act as watchdogs, to support responsible and sustainable consumerism. Any interested part kindly get in touch with us through this email; firstname.lastname@example.org
The Author is
Tanzania Consumer Advocacy Society