EDITORIAL: Girls rely on us for protection against harmful practices

EAST and Southern African countries, Tanzania included, have been struggling to end harmful cultural practices that impact women and girls’ (and often boys and men’s) rights, health and well-being for a long time.

These practices include early, forced and child marriages, forced widow inheritance, female genital mutilation and sexual intercourse between fathers-in-law and newly married daughters-in-law amongst others.

Countries practice varying harmful practices and these may be more pronounced in other countries compared to others. Often it is clusters and small communities within countries that follow these practices, leading to the obscuring of their existence with devastating impacts on the women and girls affected.

Other practices such as polygamy, virginity testing and the payment of mahari (bride price) have also been flagged for their potential harmful effects on women and girls although the jury is still out regarding their classification as harmful practices. For a long time, these practices have been allowed to continue, because girls and women and communities at large have been socialised to accept the practices as part of culture.

However, there are efforts to end these practices, and successes have been registered along the way as the East Africa region is beginning to realise and accept the negative effects of these practices on women and girls and hence the need for their elimination.

From a policy and legislative perspective, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and various governments in the region are putting in place frameworks to end such practices, despite the obduracy by some families and communities who still find it necessary to perform these harmful and often illegal practices in the name of culture.

The SADC Protocol on Gender and Development (Article 11 (2)) recognises the need to eliminate harmful cultural practices and mitigate the negative impacts of these practices on boys’ and girls’ health, wellbeing, education, future opportunities and earnings.

The SADC Parliamentary Forum in 2016 passed a Model Law on Eradicating Child Marriage and Protecting Children Already in Marriage. In response to these regional efforts, regional governments have promulgated or are in the process of promulgating marriage, sexual offences and domestic violence legislation amongst other laws to protect women and girls (as well as boys and men) from these harmful cultural practices.

Often, SADC governments are using the regional frameworks as the basis for law making at the national level, and in the process domesticating international best practices into national law. All these are highly commendable efforts, and the expectation is that sooner rather than later, the region will succeed in ending these harmful cultural practices.

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