Years of condemnation and criminalisation have done little to ease the pain and suffering caused by what is now popularly known as gender-based violence – GBV, for short. Advocacy and sensitisation have not done much to arrest its spread and severity.
Or does this appear to be the situation on the ground simply because more and more cases are being reported, thanks the splendid intervention of researchers, human rights activists, the media, etc.?
It has long been established, and agencies like the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) would readily attest to this, that in all societies, women and girls are subjected to physical, sexual and psychological abuse that cuts across lines of income, class and culture.
The UN agency notes that GBV – as it is no longer merely or strictly violence against women – may be perpetrated within families, within communities or by governments.
A number of local, regional, continental and international agencies have used a wide range of fora over the decades to describe GBV as practically fitting into the “crimes against humanity” category.
For instance, the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action state categorically that violence against women violates, impairs or nullifies the enjoyment by women of their human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Strangely, that does not seem to have made much impression if one were asked whether the voices raised have had much corrective or remedial impact in areas considered most at risk or notorious.
Field studies by journalists recently dispatched by the Tanzania Media Women Association (Tamwa) to rural areas in a number of regions in the country have established that a substantial number of cases of GBV among schoolgirls.
These are mainly in the form of forced early marriages in which the poor girls stand as helpless family “assets” without a voice of their own even on their own fate.
The last decade saw the UN and a growing number of governments view GBV as a human rights issue, with a 1993 declaration by the world body stating that such violence was “one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position”.
The very next year, an impassioned appeal was made to governments across the globe “to take full measures to eliminate all forms of exploitation, abuse, harassment and violence against women, adolescents and girls”.
The past decade having seen GBV gain recognition as a human rights violation that needs to be addressed broadly, through high-level advocacy, mass communication campaigns and legal and civil action, including support for victims. So why have we failed to sweep away the disgrace exposed by Tamwa researchers and indeed to be found in various “pockets of cultural resistance” across Tanzania?
Are our laws perhaps too soft to make a difference? Or are they simply impossible to effectively invoke, maybe? Are those pockets of cultural resistance based in communities impossible to reach and persuade into compliance with the law and respect for basic human rights?
Whatever be the explanation, there is no compelling reason for Tanzania to tolerate, much less condone or acquiesce in, GBV of whatever shape or magnitude – regardless of who the culprits or victims are.