Chilling stories on acts of violence and other forms of cruelty against women have for long made headlines in Tanzania’s media, wrongly suggesting that the country’s men are permanently at war with the opposite sex.
Both law-enforcement organs and NGOs engaged in women affairs admit that gender-based violence (GBV) is impeding the government’s goal of bringing women into the country’s mainstream development.
A 2005 USAID study confirmed that GBV is a serious health, development and human rights problem wreaking havoc on the majority of Tanzanian women and girls. It results from gender norms and social and economic inequities that give clearly unfair and therefore unacceptable privilege to men over women.
GBV takes many forms, including physical assault and sexual, psychological and economic violence. Chiefly a consequence of socially ascribed differences between males and females, it has reared its ugly face since time immemorial, at times very subtly and perpetrated against the will of innocent and often defenceless people.
Many forms of GBV, among them intimate partner violence and rape, are seen as normal and are met with acceptance by both men and women – of course, the “justification” for acceptance differing between women and men.
Women and girls are also frequently blamed for causing or provoking the violence subsequently perpetrated at their expense. In part due to blame and shame, most rarely report such cases to the relevant authorities or seek treatment, counselling or other forms of support.
It is for this reason that a host of NGOs such as the Tanzania Media Women’s Association, Tanzania Women Lawyers Association, Legal and Human Rights Centre, Tanzania Rural Women and Children’s Association, Tanzania Gender Networking Programme, and Tanzania Police Female Network have teamed up to wage war on gender discrimination and, by extension, help build a Tanzania that truly places a premium on human dignity.
Thus, to be fair, there is mounting recognition of gender discrimination and gender equity in different facets of life across Tanzania particularly in urban areas. This awakening includes acknowledgement of the prevalence and viciousness of GBV as well as the extent to which it causes havoc in society, disrupting both the national economy and health and social welfare systems.
At the national policy level, there are signs of support to actively address GBV. President Jakaya Kikwete, for example, has publicly stated that GBV should be included as one of the Millennium Development Goals as a way of expediting the promotion of women’s participation in national development.
Institutional reforms in the government also point to promising paths towards taming GBV. For instance, each ministry has a gender focal point, with the Community Development, Gender and Children ministry having initiated efforts to train staff on ways to mainstream gender in their work plans and budgets.
While it is undeniable that GBV is so entrenched that it cannot end overnight, putting in place and seriously implementing appropriate policies and legal provisions will go a long towards mitigating the devastation it leads to.
However, it is commonly agreed that public sensitisation and community mobilisation remain the most affordable and effective weapons the nation can depend on – and can’t we have enough of them in our arsenal?