Changing gender roles in Tanzania’s refugee camps

Mary Wiltenburg, for the Pulitzer Center


The men sat around in a circle of chairs and benches, smoking, chatting, and playing board games. Their wives spent hours cooking, cleaning, tending kids, and hauling five-gallon water buckets from the pump on their heads. Men had first, last, and nicknames. Women were known by their kids: Mama Grace, Mama Elisa, Mama Billy. The gender roles in Kanembwa refugee camp, in northwestern Tanzania, seemed plenty strict to me.

But when six of Hassan's male friends joined me and translator Pablo Joseph for a discussion one afternoon in Kanembwa, the men were upset. Camp life had turned the traditional Congolese social order on its head, they said, and women were getting uppity.

"Her rights, she knows," said former human rights activist Dieudonné Mukucha, "her responsibilities, she forgets."