Between 2008 and 2010, Women without Borders (WwB) embarked on a factfinding mission and corresponding campaign entitled ‘Island of Change: Walking into the Future’ in Zanzibar. The project sought to marry female empowerment with issues relating to the environment, healthcare, gender equality, and the economy in Zanzibar. Beyond translating a number of the research findings into action through pilot workshops and trainings, the overall project paved the way for the development of a comprehensive network that has laid the foundation for future initiatives. WwB secured the support of and developed relationships with local stakeholders at all levels and from various fields. The ‘Island of Change’ factfinding mission culminated in a documentary that follows WwB’s factfinding journey and features the various swimming, ‘Teamshaping’, and empowerment workshops it rolled out in parallel. In accordance with the principles of the campaign, the ‘Island of Change’ campaign also gave rise to a domestic violence awareness programme, which was installed in cooperation with WwB’s local implementing partner ZAYADESA.

The island of Zanzibar, located off the coast of Tanzania in the Indian Ocean, faces a plethora of problems common to most parts of Sub-Saharan Africa: rising rates of HIV infection, poor healthcare, and limited vocational opportunities. High rates of poverty, unemployment, and illiteracy have a dampening effect on the career prospects of the island’s inhabitants. Women in particular have been disadvantaged; they fight an uphill battle to secure basic education, are often confined to their homes, and rarely are afforded the right to choose their partners. Beyond living in a deeply patriarchal society, for a high number of women domestic violence presents an everyday reality. These prevalent societal issues demand attention in the form of local female leadership trainings, tailored awareness raising programmes, and proven and tested capacity building initiatives that promise to effect positive change.

Observing the untapped potential of Zanzibari women and recognising how with the right level of support they can be positioned as key changemakers in their communities, Women without Borders (WwB) developed and advanced its ‘Island of Change: Walking into the Future’ factfinding and implementation campaign. Between 2008 and 2010, WwB met with male and female ministers, activists, journalists, doctors, lawyers, athletes, and investors, among others, to facilitate ongoing and discuss future projects addressing pressing socio-economic, environmental, and gender-related concerns.

The ‘Island of Change’ factfinding mission and its whole-of-community-oriented female empowerment and capacity building programmes in action were accompanied and recorded by a professional documentary filmmaker from Europe. The completed film follows WwB’s journey and collaborations, and, moreover, it features the strong women of Zanzibar during their participation in various ‘Swimming into the Future’, ‘My Body, My Self’, and ‘Teamshaping’ workshops that were rolled out in parallel. In accordance with WwB’s ‘Island of Change’ philosophy, the campaign also gave rise to a unique domestic violence awareness programme, which was introduced in cooperation with WwB’s local implementing partner ZAYADESA.

Both the factfinding mission and documentary film highlight the context-specific ways in which gender-relations, environmental issues, and socio-economic conditions impact the lives of Zanzibari women in particular and the island’s diverse communities more generally. WwB learned that while the female population tends to be confined to the home and expected to fulfil traditional domestic duties, women are almost entirely responsible for all in-shore seaweed and salt production. Yet typically they do not have control over their earnings; men decide how the daily average of one dollar earned is spent. The island’s tourism industry in particular points to a mixture of the inter-related societal issues facing the local population: hotels pour over two tons of raw liquid waste into the Indian Ocean every day; unsustainable and irresponsible tourism practises are negatively impacting the island’s environment; and the industry is dominated by men.

The ‘Island of Change: Walking into the Future’ campaign laid the foundation for future WwB projects in Zanzibar, including MotherSchools and MotherCircles programmes between 2017 and 2018. Working closely with ZAYADESA and communities across the island ultimately made it possible to deliver innovative workshops on female empowerment and break the silence surrounding a number of taboo topics that most participants previously had never addressed.

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