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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

Call for men to change mindsets to combat gender-based violence

23rd April 2012

Mariamu Tunguja ,42 , (not her real name), is a peasant farmer at Kadando village, Mpirani ward in Same District. She is married to Togolai Sheshe.

Every morning, the couple set out for shamba where they tend to a one hectare rice farm.

They leave their two- roomed mud house at 6.30 every morning and walk to the farm which is a kilometre away.

On her left shoulder, Mariamu carries two hoes and a small basket containing food-normally the previous night’s left over food, in her right hand.

Mariamu and her husband work in their farm up to two O’clock when they break for lunch. They take their lunch under a mango tree before starting their journey back home.

Togolai or Togo as he is commonly known in the village, picks up his panga and slowly starts the journey; but not in the company of his wife.

Mariamu almost always remains behind to collect firewood which she ties with parts of dry banana leaves which serve as ropes.

Along with the load of firewood, Mariamu also carries the two hoes whereby she in total carries a load weighing about 20 kgs.

When she reaches home around four, Mariamu finds her husband long gone-as usual, for a drinking spree at a local bar-specialising in fermented coconut juice commonly known as “mnazi”

The place is mostly attended by people residing in the village and its peripherals, mostly retrenched employees formerly working in towns.

At this meeting place, boozers use vernacular language in their normal conversations. But later, some of them change the medium of communication and switch to English.

This is when those who went to school show off.

“For your information, the man you are talking about was my classmate. If I ring him now and tell him to send me one laki (100,000/-), tomorrow the money would be here, one of them would boastfully retort to the others.

Back home, around 11pm, Togolai would find the door already opened for him. Togolai does not need to knock on the door for his wife to open, considering that all the way from the pub, he had been singing in a high tone.

Mariamu, who had been dozing off since they had super with the family at 8pm, would go straight to the kitchen to light the fire and start cooking ugali (stiff porridge) for the head of the house.

She would then heat up the vegetable dish and serve the food to the waiting husband who always boasts to his drinking colleagues that he never eats food that has not come straight from the cooker.

Mariamu is used to offering her husband this kind of service. A couple of years ago, she served food which had been cooked for the entire family but on coming back home , the husband demanded that she cooked him fresh food.

When Mariamu resisted, he severely beat her. Since then, she has been complying with his demands – no matter how difficult they would seem, without hesitation.

Indicators show that women in the country ,and indeed in most developing countries, bear the brunt of hardships, particularly for those living in poor communities.

Despite efforts to modernize discriminatory laws mainly undertaken by human rights organizations, various policies in place are mostly frustrated by deep-rooted cultural barriers that often run in tandem with poverty.

The fact that women are agents of poverty reduction programmes in as far as food security is concerned, not with standing, they are the last to benefit from most government initiatives aimed at poverty reduction.

“The solution to certain mannerisms such as wife beating, disrespect between couples, should be combated through both men and women wearing gender glasses,” said Evelyne Mwaimu, Coordinator of Tanga based Women and Children Legal Aid Trust (WOLEA).

“Women should know their constitutional rights’ she says. Couples should be sensitized sufficiently enough, with women resisting subordination until such time men change their mind set. They should realize that humiliation is unfair, ”asserts the human rights boss.

Evelyne says male chauvinism has been a vice perpetuated by centuries of traditional ways of life.

She says, “There are instances whereby a husband may in front of people, call his spouse a dog, or an empty shell and the woman would never respond though she may feel humiliated”

A housewife said recently, in some households, a wife would never dare go to bed before her husband arrived from an errand-even after midnight.

“Some traditions dictate that a woman remains alert until such time her man arrives, the aim being to ensure that her husband has eaten,” according to Mwajuma Haji, a resident of Duga Mwembeni in the City.

“Some men would demand that whenever a man knocks on the door, the woman should quickly attend to him,” says Mwajuma.

Mwajuma says in most cases women abide by orders from their husbands, humiliating as they may be, in fear of being divorced.

“As long as men in some societies have the mandate to issue divorce notices, even on flimsy offences or misbehaviours, how do you expect such women to endanger their marriages by questioning their partners’ instructions? queries Joyce Mushi, a business woman.

Aisha Twalib, another city resident says; “we tolerate beatings from our husbands but when it becomes too severe, we complain to either the parents of the husband or ours”.

“Gender violence, including battering, un official divorces, disrespect and humiliation of couples may take time to eliminate. But men should be the first to change mind set”, concluded Evelyne.

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