Gender based violence rising in Tanzania

Thursday, 25 July 2013 23:17 GMT

A woman on the island of Zanzibar carries collected seaweed on May 26, 2009. REUTERS/Peter Andrews

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Survey shows nearly half of married women experience sexual violence

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania (Thomson Reuters Foundation)— Sakina Masoud bears physical and emotional scars in the wake of a harrowing knife attack she suffered  a month ago when her husband suspected her of  having sex out of wedlock.

Despite suffering ‘deadly’ injuries, Masoud did not reveal her ordeal even to her neighbour because it is the norm that women in the coastal region are taught to tolerate violent assaults perpetrated by spouses.

 “I cried for help when he started attacking me, he used own fist, then he shoved a knife and sliced me indiscriminately” she said.

 The 36-year-old mother of two children said her husband attacked her when she came back home late at night after a long day at the popular Mlimani City shopping mall, the largest in the country.

 “I was about to explain to him what had happened and no sooner had I opened my mouth than he started attacking me” she said.

  While at Mlimani City, Masoud said she met a man who lured her with promises to help developing business ideas. She didn’t know she was actually talking to a con man who would rob her of everything including her wedding ring.

 “I was so scared to tell my husband that I had lost my phones, ATM cards, jewelry, money, but I realized that was a terrible mistake” she said.

 Masoud’s marriage has since turned sour. She is living separately from her husband, who verbally divorced her under the rules of Tanzania’s customary marriage laws. 

  Her story paints a disturbing picture of the plight of thousands of women and children in Tanzania who are increasingly becoming victims of gender based violence (GBV).

  In its bid to address gender violence, a Tanzanian nonprofit organization is setting up programmes with the aim to equip women with knowledge of their rights and legal assistance.

Tanzania Media Women’s Association (TAMWA), in collaboration with other partners, said in  a statement that it was forming regional committees to identify, reveal and combat  different forms of gender violence in the country. 

  According to the TAMWA statement, the idea behind these committees is based on research findings last year which suggested that there were gaps in the reporting system of gender violence.  The Thomson Reuters Foundation contacted Masoud through TAMWA.

 The Tanzania Demographic and Health Survey of 2010 shows that about 10% of women between the ages of 15-49 report their first sexual intercourse was forced and that 48% of married women reported experiencing sexual violence.

  TAMWA managing director Valerie Msoka told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that said GBV is increasing because there’s no political will to address underlying social problems.

“Fighting GBV is still not a strategic priority in many government programmes therefore it is hard to fight attitudes that sustain such problems.” she said.

 Msoka said the battle against gender violence faces challenges including ignorance of potential victims of the violence and lack of a holistic approach to solve the problems.

“If the government wants to be the leader in this fight, it should use all its weapons,” she said.

 She urged people in areas susceptible to child marriage, female genital mutilation (FGM) and other social maladies to collect and present evidence so that the cases are prosecuted in court.

“We need to enlighten the people on how to record statements to the police. Experience shows that most parents and relatives of GBV victims shy away from giving evidence in court,” she said.

Gender based violence is a grave reality in the lives of women and girls in Tanzania. Government data shows that such violence is caused by social and economic inequalities that give privilege to men over women.

Although female genital mutilation is illegal, United Nations Population Fund statistics show Tanzania has recorded a rise in FGM prevalence in recent years with the Mara region leading with a prevalence of 39.9%, compared to the national average of  14.6%.

“Reversing this trend will only be possible if all levels of duty bearers work towards the abandonment of the practice,” said Sawiche Wamunza, UNFPA, Advocacy and Communications Analyst.

  According to a baseline survey carried out by TAMWA to establish the status of gender based violence in several districts of Tanzania last year, lack of awareness and  the existing gaps in the reporting system are some of the factors contributing to the increase in gender related violence in the country.

The findings say gender based violence is a serious problem in the country, but its magnitude is difficult to ascertain because such incidents are under reported.

“The gender violence victims fail to report due to poverty and (they are) unable to follow the costly and bureaucratic procedure of seeking justice" it said.

 The research says stigmatisation attached to the victims of gender violence makes them reluctant to report such incidents. “In case of defilement, some parents see that as an opportunity of getting money from the suspected defiler," the survey said.

According to the survey, knowledge of GBV among women is very low; only 10.8 percent of respondents interviewed in 2,300 households admitted to having GBV education.

Regarding the quality of the relationship between women and policy makers, the survey found that only 28 percent of the respondents saw some improvement in the relationship, although the awareness of rights, such as education,  is still minimal among most women who took part in the research.

According to the survey, most women are not familiar with the concept of gender equality; only   14.2 percent of the respondents said they know or have heard about it.

 --Kizito Makoye is a journalist based in Dar es Salaam specialising in governance, climate change reporting and women’s rights.

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