House of Women: Liberating Women in Tanzania

As a feminist, I love writing with the ShoutOut crew as a means of keeping my ear to the ground when it comes to current issues that intersect with feminism. Within the past few weeks this page has exploded with timely, relevant news updates and thought-provoking opinion pieces on issues that have taken the lead in main-stream media. With this surge of posts that are keeping things #relevant, it’s certainly easy to get lost in the notion that, every day, it seems as though there is something new challenging our fight for equality. However, to change things up a bit, I’d like to talk about a community that’s taking steps, whether intentional or not, to give women a leg up in their journeys towards liberation- and you might be surprised who constitutes this group of lady empowering individuals: members of the Tanzanian cattle-herding tribe of the Kurya.

Alright, let’s back up.

The Kurya tribe which spans across northern Tanzania and has a population of over 700,000 is redefining their definition of marriage- this time to favor the woman. In a practice called nyumba ntobhu or, “house of women” women are allowed to marry each other in order to “preserve their livelihoods in the absence of men”. While nobody really knows when this practice started, nyumba ntobhu has been used by women in this community, desperate for liberation from the highly controlling, patriarchal culture of Tanzania, as a means of physical, mental, and financial empowerment. The practice itself is intended for recently widowed women seeking to maintain ownership over their property as, in Kurya tribal law, only men can inherit property. However, if a woman without sons is widowed or her husband leaves her, she is allowed to marry a younger woman who can take a male lover and give birth to heirs on her behalf. In traditional Kuryan culture men use cows as currency to buy multiple wives but in nyumba ntobhu women are given the freedom to decide who they wish to be with- an arrangement that is fostering stamina for a women’s liberation movement in Tanzania.

While the intended purpose behind nyumba ntobhu is simply to preserve land ownership among clans, the effects of this arrangement are addressing so much more for Kuryan women. Because the practice allows both recently widowed women and younger women to choose their own sexual and domestic partners, the practice is single-handedly minimizing the prevalence of domestic abuse, child marriage, and female genital mutilation within Tanzania. While the tribe certainly didn’t intend for this to be the result, Kuryan women are reaping the benefits of an arrangement that finally puts their needs above a man’s.




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