A Word From “African Queens Project” Founder:
Janet Mbene embodies the aphorism: Never give up! She truly is an African Queen and a woman much respected by her peers and those who strive to be like her. Her children are a testament to the kind of woman she is, as she has raised a phenomenal group of kids who are making waves in this country and beyond. She is now currently the Deputy Minister of finance for the Tanzanian government and also makes the time to speak, advice and mentor young people on their different journeys. It is my honor to call her an African Queen and this is her story:
I am a mother of five beautiful grown children: 3 boys and two girls. I am a second born of three children. I have an elder sister and younger brother. My parents were working class, my father was working in the Tanzania Railways Corporation and my mother was previously a nurse and midwife and later trained and changed to Community Development Officer and Ultimately also joined politics.
My childhood was spent moving in many cities of Tanzania due to my father’s work transfers. I was born in Morogoro and lived there till I was two years old when we moved to Kilimanjaro, Arusha, Mbeya, Iringa and ultimately Dar es Salaam.
I went to Primary School in Iringa and finished off in Dar es Salaam where I joined a Convent Secondary School and attained the ordinary certificate level then went to High School “A” Level at Marian College a Maryknoll Sisters School which is now known as Kilakala Secondary School.
I then got married had three children and went back to School starting with an advanced Diploma in banking, then to University for First Degree in Economics. Before going back to tertiary education, I had two more children. In 1972, I joined work with the then only Commercial Bank, The National Bank of Commerce. From Clerk to Credit and Loans Administration Manager in one of the large branches in Dar es Salaam.
After My Postgraduate Studies in Australia where I graduated with a Master’s degree in Economics with specialization in International Trade and Trade Agreements, Regional Integration and financing of Trade as well as Bank Financial management as well as corporate financing. I also took a course in Natural Resources management.
After my graduate studies I joined work with various International NGOs as a Program Specialist in Credit Management, Capacity Building Entrepreneurship, and later also worked in the UN System as Program Specialist and Head of Programs variously.
I’ve also worked in International Regional organizations as Executive Director. This involved coordinating programs in economic and social justice and monitored government performance in facilitating policy implementation at all levels of government linking this at regional level with other national governments. Was responsible in creating awareness among citizenry to hold governments responsive to their concerns and also responsible to the commitments made in National & International Commitments. This was of particular significance in the MDGs, WTO issues and other regional commitments.
- Why did you pick the career path that you did?
I picked this career path because I have always aspired to be in public service and my career path grew from my studies in economics and finance. Even my Political career was influenced from the fact that I was called to lead since primary school all the way through University, place of work, etc in all this I would represent the student or workers as the case may be.
- Do you wish you could have done things differently if given the chance? Please explain.
Yes, I would have wished to do a few things differently. Namely been more patient, listened more, listen to the voice of God more and obeyed Him. I certainly should have done a PhD. I would have been more forgiving of myself. I believe the standards I have set for my life have rendered too hard on others and myself. I would have relaxed more.
- What and who inspires and motivates you?
My main motivation was my parents who both supported me and encouraged me to do the best that I could telling me that my success depended on me alone and that no person could ever be fully depended upon other than myself. They told me time and time that education is my only salvation and this made me work very hard and succeed and they were very proud of me.
- What do you count as your greatest achievement?
My Greatest Achievement has been taking control of my life after a bad and difficult marriage, raising my children alone, going back to school and educating my children adequately and raising them to be responsible and they have become admirable children.
- What are some struggles and/or insecurities?
I have faced many struggles because of my gender. First was in being forced to marry a man I did not love nor want.
Not being taken seriously because of my gender in places of work where all they see is the woman. Receiving less pay for same jobs and responsibilities. Being stereotyped and not being able to take part in things such as going out alone in public places for fear of harassments backbiting and being misunderstood.
- How important is family especially in light of your career and professional life?
I have overcome them through hard work through perseverance, through professional and ethics to show the world that I am able to achieve things on merit and not because I am a woman.
Family in my life has been the anchor on which my success was linked for my family encouraged me, loved me, provided for me and comforted me through the good and bad times. I learnt very early on in life that no matter what, I could depend on my family to come through for me.
- Do you believe it is important to share your story with other women?
Yes, I do believe it is important to share my story with other women because many times we face challenges and feel overwhelmed and think we are alone in it when actually that is not the case. So a story could help a woman be motivated and be comforted to know that there are others in the same position and who have overcome their situations.
- In your experience, what do you thank are some prevalent issues women face in everyday life? Professionally?
Women still lack access to the basic things in life, like education, finances, opportunities, recognition for their contribution in the household, at work and nationally. Women are still abused by family, workplace and society at large, verbally, psychologically, sexually and professionally. Not enough is invested in girls and women on the facilities that are of importance to women. Water facilities, transport facilities, working tools, technology and health care, finance, training and education facilities.
What do you think needs to be done to address these issues?
- What needs to be done is ensure that women issues are treated as a human right. That girls are given the same opportunities in education from Primary School to University.
- Women in rural areas are given facilities to ease their burden and get them to engage in economic activities more.
- All laws that discriminate against women are scraped.
- Society are educated about the rights of girls and women and to make it punishable to deprive girls and women of these rights.
- Women need to be educated on their own rights because many have grown to accept abuse and deprivation as normal.
- What would you tell another young woman who wants to go down the same path that you have chosen?
I would encourage any woman who wants to go the same path that I did but would caution her on the pit falls to avoid.
What do you do to give back to your community?
I do a lot to give back to community, I have an orphanage that I have adopted and I am supporting them.
- If you could tell young women 1 thing, what would it be?
I provide free advice to young people and women on various issues including entrepreneurship. I support and contribute to community programs such as education centers, orphanages, health and other areas requiring assistance. I would tell young women to be confident, hard-working and to dream big.