With International Women’s Day coming up on March 8th, I thought it would be the perfect time to reflect on my interactions with women in Tanzania. During winter session, I traveled with Anthropology Professor Gary Kerr and nine other students to Tanzania. Here at University of Montana I study Psychology as well as Women’s and Gender Studies. I chose a very heavy and sensitive GLI topic: gender-based violence against women. When Professor Kerr pitched the trip to Tanzania to us students, I knew it would be a trip of a lifetime. I had wanted to travel to Africa ever since I can remember and I knew that Kerr would help us make it a really great learning experience.
Going in to my beyond the classroom experience, I knew I wanted to learn about the women we would meet. I also knew that going into a foreign country and talking to women about gender-based violence with no experience was a bad idea. Instead, I made plans to learn about women’s roles in their culture. Before I left I put in a lot of work to come up with questions I could ask the women I met and to learn what was already known. I even went to the lengths of filling out a comprehensive IRB form to make sure there were no ethical issues with my quasi-research. I was confident and ready to go talk with some women about their lives and roles as women in Tanzania! I was also a bit naïve…
Our first visit with one of the tribes was with the Maasai tribe. They greeted us with an amazing display of song and dance, and even had us join in! Then, the men toured us around their small village and told us about their culture. The women stood around their beadwork and jewelry. It was clear to me that it was considered the men’s job to lead us and teach us about their lives and that it would be inappropriate for me to try to interview one of the women.
After that first experience it was clear to me that I needed to reevaluate my expectations of my GLI learning goals for the trip. I went in knowing that four tribes I would be visiting were fairly patriarchal and suspected that my visits with the other three tribes would be similar to my experience with the Maasai. I felt very discouraged to meet this roadblock, but I came up with a plan. I would learn everything I could about the concrete roles of women by asking the men and our guides every question I could think of. Second, I would learn everything I could about the women’s perspectives by soaking up all of our interactions- verbal and non-verbal. It wasn’t perfect, but I learned a lot more than I hoped I would!
Each of the women that I met in Tanzania had some things in common. They were strong, kind, and full of life. They work extremely hard and contribute a heck of a lot to their communities. They have plenty of hardships, and yet were still incredibly determined to live a good life. Although things didn’t work out the way I planned, some of my favorite memories and best learning experiences were the little exchanges I had with the women. I also had some wonderful conversations with our Tanzanian guides about marriage, sex, women’s roles and education, and more! Although I didn’t end up needing my IRB approval, it was a really valuable experience to fill it out since I plan to do more research in my academic life. Overall, I’m confident to say that I think I learned more than I would have if it all had went smoothly. What a learning experience it turned out to be!