Decision making under the tree: gender perspectives on decentralization reforms in service delivery in rural Tanzania

Z.S. Masanyiwa

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU

Abstract

In recent decades, decentralization has been upheld by governments, donors and policy makers in many developing countries as a means of improving people’s participation and public services delivery. In 1996, the government of Tanzania embarked on major local government reforms reflecting the global trends and as part of the wider public sector reforms. The reforms aim at improving the access, quality and equitable delivery of public services through a policy of ‘decentralization by devolution’. Since then, many studies have examined the fiscal, administra­tive, legal and political aspects of the reforms. However, the gender dimensions of both the process and outcomes of the reforms have been less examined. In Tanzania, like in other sub-Saharan African countries, little is documented about decentrali­zation and gender, especially at the village level. This study, therefore, examines the impact of decentralization reforms on service delivery in rural Tanzania using a gender perspective.The study addresses the question of how decentralization affects the user-provider interactions and gender-sensitivity of water and health services in the rural villages. Specifically, it focuses on the institu­tional characte­ristics for decentralized service delivery, the impact of the reforms on service users’ participation in decision-making processes, on access to gender-sensitive water and health services, and on cooperation and trust at the village level.

To investigate this, the study draws on governance theory and sociological theory,  including an institutional, principal-agent, an actor and a gender perspective. In this study, gender is seen as a cross-cutting perspective taking in account the wider socio-cultural and political structures that influence the process and outcomes of decentralization in a specific context. The study is based on quantitative and qualitative data obtained at district, village and household levels in the districts of Kondoa and Kongwa in the Dodoma Region in Tanzania. The fieldwork consisted of three overlapping phases: an exploratory phase, house­hold survey and in-depth qualitative study. Mixed data collection methods were used because they enrich our understanding of the topic and contribute to the validity and reliability of findings. A house­hold survey was used to collect quantitative data, whereas semi-structured and unstruc­tured interviews, focus group discussions, observations, case studies and life histories were used to collect qualitative data. Overall, 513 respondents (236 men and 277 women) were involved in the study: 332 in the survey (115 men and 227 women), 69 in the focus group discussions (44 men and 25 women), 107 in the interviews (77 men and 30 women) and five women in life histories. In addition, review and analysis of available data at district and village levels provided secondary data to complement the primary data.

The study found that the reforms have resulted in a number of institutional changes by restructuring the district and village councils, and by establishing service boards and commi­ttees at each administrative level or service delivery point. These changes have incre­ased local govern­ments’ autonomy to plan and imple­ment service delivery functions, and service users’ participation in planning and managing public services. However, the existing central-local relations limit local governments’ autonomy to fully exercise their decentralized mandates and to address local service delivery needs. Local govern­ments have limited financial and technical capacity, and the central government controls their functions through intergovernmental trans­fers, guidelines and national priorities. At the village level, conflicting roles and responsi­bi­lities of village councils and service committees limit the latter to fun­ction effectively. Thus, decent­ralized service delivery in Tanzania takes on different forms where the nature of sector is an important factor in the kind of institutional arrangements.

It was revealed that decentralization reforms have created spaces for service users’ participation in planning and decision-making processes. Men and women participate in these spaces through attending meetings, contributing labour, cash or both, in construction of service infrastructures, membership in committees, speaking up and influencing decisions in meetings. The majority of women participate passively by attending meetings, consultation or through activity-specific spaces. Although the proportion of women in village councils and committees has increased because of the quota-based representation, local decision-making processes conti­nue to be largely male dominated. Women’s participation contributes to meeting practical gender needs, but to a lesser extent addresses their strategic gender needs because of the gende­red power rela­tions which have been largely untouched by the reforms. The main const­raints to effective women’s participation include patriarchy, household respo­nsibilities, compli­cated elec­tion proce­dures, lack of self-confidence and less experience in public affairs. Gender also inter­sects with religion, ethnicity, age and marital status, and may compound women’s disadva­ntaged position in local decision-making structures. While dece­nt­ralization is expected to address gender inequalities, instead it repro­duces them, because it does not address the socio-cultural barriers that inhibit women’s effec­tive participation in local structures.

The study shows that the impact of reforms on water and health services delivery is mixed. Access to the services has improved for some users but decentralization has also led to marginalization of other users. The number of water and health services infrastructure has increased, thereby raising the service coverage. However, there is still inade­quate infrastructure to provide full service coverage, and the situation is more critical in the health sector because most villages do not have their own health facilities. Despite improvements in coverage, less has been achieved in other respects, such as adequate staffing and availability of drugs and other essential supplies. Comparatively, more users are satisfied with water services than with health services. For both services, there are overlaps and differences between the users’ and the gender perspectives. Men and women hold similar opinions on some aspects, but there are also marked differences. This confirms the fact that men and women are actually different users because they have different needs, and are positioned differently regarding their access to basic services. Understanding these simi­larities and differences is, thus, an important step in making basic services ‘gender-sensitive’.

It was shown that the reforms have strengthened formal cooperation aimed at improving public services and the informal mechanisms of social networks and groups. Decentralization outcomes in terms of increased citizen’s participation in decision-making processes and improved services influence political trust, and also here gender relations proved to play an important role. There is a two-way interface between trust and decentra­lization reforms: trust enhances participation in local institutions and ‘good’ decentrali­zation outcomes can generate trust. Conversely, ‘bad’ decentralization outcomes decrease trust. The study further revealed that political trust is a multi-layered concept where citizens judge local leaders and service providers at different administrative levels differently. These levels are crucial in analysing political trust and the impact of gender on political trust at different levels.

The general conclusion of this study is that the current decentralization reforms in Tanzania present both opportunities and challenges for increasing service users’ participation, cooperation and trust, addressing gender equality issues and, for improving service delivery. In order to improve the user-provider interactions and service delivery, a number of design and implementation issues should be addressed. At the national level, policy makers need to address the existing imbalance in central-local relations by redefining the relationship, functions and roles of central and local governments. District councils need to clarify the roles and responsibi­lities of service committees in relation to those of village councils, provide regular gender-sensitive training to service committees, and integrate local needs into district plans. Village leaders should consider holding meetings at times and in locations that are convenient for women, announce meetings and agenda in advance, and address village concerns adequately and transparently in the meeti­ngs. Actors at all levels need to explore effective strategies for transforming the socio-cultural norms that underlie women’s subordinate position in decision-making processes, and in their access to basic services.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
Supervisors/Advisors
  • Niehof, Anke, Promotor
  • Termeer, Katrien, Promotor
Award date29 Apr 2014
Place of PublicationWageningen
Publisher
Print ISBNs9789461738998
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Keywords

  • decentralization
  • public sector
  • services
  • rural communities
  • gender
  • gender relations
  • tanzania
  • africa

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