Mama Ntilie with HIV/AIDS in Tanzania, by Sia Ngowo

A couple months ago, I4C invited all women activists working in rural spaces within the I4C network – or new to it – to apply for sponsorship to attend the 62nd Commission on the Status of Women (CSW62). Sia Edward Ngowo from Tanzania was one of two new members selected. From Tanzania, she works with the LGBTI community to advocate for the rights of sex workers and to end the HIV epidemic. Read her powerful story below about her work with Mama Ntilie, or women vendors in rural Tanzania, and their fight against the HIV and AIDS epidemic.




Working as activist in Tanzania can become easier when you can be able to link your work with the government policies and politician ideas but once you go against them it’s a bit complicated.

I have worked with different community from elder persons, children, youth, women, girls and female sex workers in collaboration with Women Fund Tanzania and Tanzania women Judges Association, Tanzania Gender Network Program, TACAIDS, NACP, responding to HIV/AIDS and Gender based violence among women and girls in Tanzania.

We were able to increase the number of Women politicians in the National assembly and even inclusion of minority groups in giving out their voice to be heard and share their ideas while working with Women Tanzania under “Wanawake na Katiba” in 2015 which was supported by UN Women Tanzania.

Working with rural women is not of challenge but reaching out to their needs is a challenge. Rural women have been experience challenge in social services like water, health services education and little accessibility of information in many areas with the inclusion of HIV/AIDS education, all of these are of scare in most rural areas in less developed countries including Tanzania.

Women participate in economic development activities like working in industries and farms for low wages to be able to take care of the family basic needs like food, shelter and health. For the case of abandoned women with children they engage themselves in different income generating activities and some start a small business for a small capital. Because of no business knowledge mostly fail in business and they have to use another method to recover the loss thus they involve themselves in rural urban migration and engage in sex working while working as Mama Ntilie during the day.

Mama Ntilie in rural areas is mostly done by women and is likely to be in growing centers in rural areas, industrial or garage areas, bus stop/stand, market areas and more areas with high population.

In my experience women working on Mama Ntilie have been included in women movement despite that they experience different challenges (most have toddler in their working areas) this is because they don’t have anyone to stay with them at home. They work with adolescent girls of which they use them for delivering food where their customers who cannot be able to reach to their business area.

Little time to involve themselves in other activities within the community they lack awareness in few things like HIV/AIDs and other sexual transmission diseases. Despite doing Mama Ntilie work they engage themselves in sex work to be able to earn more for their business.

This is likely more to happen along the roadside to long track drivers or mobile men who transport goods in different parts of the country and neighbouring countries.

In my own experience working within the community how to engage these women is by using IGA (income generating activities) by involving them to start a cooperative society from which they can save and receive credit under supervision to be able to increase income in their business.

Mama Ntilie are more likely to be sex workers of which HIV/AIDS rate is 36% and are included in Key Population which are more likely to have HIV new infections compared to general population

Working with female sex workers and other KP groups is not easy when we lack or we have little involvement of the key beneficiaries in the implementation of the activities that involve them.


Women are the primary actors within the economy and social services of Tanzania. Women are the third worlds’ powerhouse. In addition to that they play an important role in caring for the families and homes.  Food vendors, commonly referred to as “Mama Ntilie” in Tanzania are women who are local entrepreneurs with small capital doing small business of selling cooked food in non-conversional eating places such as at street corners, in temporary shelter or construction 1 sites instead of hotels or restaurants. Holt and Ribe (1992) reported that due to capital constraints most women are engaged in small business and usually they start the business with low initial capital. They cook a variety of foods which are considered to be delicious and favorable to all customers, but due to their business area conditions, most of high income or status people are reluctant to eat Mama Ntilie’s food.

Food vendors face constraints like poor regulatory framework for informal sector activities and the incessant crackdown by municipal authorities. They face serious problems in terms of working premises and harassment to them when operating in premises that are not meant to for business hence are insecure about their future and become less motivated to expand their business. Due to lack of proper business premises and harassment cause these women to move from one area to another hence they lose their customers and properties and endanger their business survival.

Reports show that women account for only 25% of those employed, and are occupying the lower positions (Mosha and Johnson, 2000). Therefore poverty is higher among women than men; women are more affected by poverty than men although they have a broad perception of poverty. Women face several constraints, the major ones include, lack of direct access to resources such as land, capital, credit, information which affects their productivity, and lower education levels. Due to this, many women engage themselves in selling cooked food in different locations in order to improve their living standards.

Living in rural being unemployed and working as a food vendor (Mama Ntilie) is not a challenge but HIV /AIDS is a challenge. Most of the MAMA NTILIE are young mothers who got pregnant and abandoned by men. They start a business to cover for their needs and the needs of their babies.  We have seen rural urban migration of girls and young women for searching of work and most of them working as house maids in cities.

Being pregnant for a young woman does not only have health challenges but economic and social as well.

Meeting these challenges we can empower them with health information, HIV/AIDS education and economic empowerment by providing them with information on where to get income or formation of small financial groups to start with.


The community has been working on indigenous women, gender based violence, widower, adolescent girls and more of formal and informal sectors issues of women worldwide. Little has been done with non-state actors on either economic challenges but little has been said on Mama Ntilie health challenges and working environment and there is no a forum where they can speak about their challenges and when using other forums they can only use them for speaking of women challenges. Rural areas is faced with more social services challenges and one among is extreme poverty. Women can be used for change if empowered and overcoming economic difficulties for Mama Ntilie to avoid them from HIV/AIDS new infections is by giving them power to speak for themselves and set goals to achieve those challenges.

Credit to Nathan Mpangala             

We have been working with different non-state actors on health, economic and gender based violence among youth, adolescent girls and young women, but we only address sexual reproductive health challenges, gender based violence, HIV/AIDs prevention and economic challenges. But access to HIV/AIDS health information among young women who are mostly working as Mama Ntilie and others who are helping them they face challenges on how to access this information but they need this information. HIV/AIDs information can be accessed by development of a forum in which everyone will be able to come and address their challenges and after we can have a group discussion or initiated clubs discussion to address the reality of the agenda and develop strategies and ways to overcome those challenges.

Initiate end of the year festival/forum of young women, working as Mama Ntilie and other women where they can meet and share experience on different matters.