Tanzania Journal of Development Studies

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Gender Struggles at the University of Dar es Salaam: A Personal Herstory

M Mbilinyi


Written in the form of a stream of consciousness, and relying on my personal memories, this paper explores the different kinds of struggles that many young female academics face while balancing their lives as academics, wives, mothers, and activists. Personal histories—or herstories—provide a lens through which one can better understand collective as well as personal experiences and changes taking place in the structures and institutions that shape our lives, and which are shaped as well by our responses. Of particular interest are the ways in which women have sought to resist and struggle against patriarchal and globalising structures, knowledge and ideologies that dominate different spheres of our society. Transformative feminism values and promotes personal life-story as an important method to tap the often untold and invisible knowledge and information of women, including the most marginalised women who often lack formal schooling. It also embraces the multiple dimensions of our lives in both the personal and public arena, and recognises that the personal is indeed political.

After a brief introduction, the second section explores the main dimensions of transformative feminist theory. The third section describes my early days as a young wife, mother and academic and the strategies I adopted to support me and my family. The different dimensions of sex discrimination at the university are analysed in the fourth section, and the fifth section focuses on struggles in the Academic Staff Assembly. Struggles over the right to study and research women’s/gender issues in the mainstream university and the efforts by feminist academic activists to create alternative feminist spaces are analysed in the sixth and seventh sections, respectively. The article concludes with a few brief reflections on the implications of this story for further struggles at the University.

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