GENDER-based violence, specifically violence against women (VAW) is one of the leading causes of death of women between the ages of 19 and 44 globally.
This figure is according to Association for Progressive Communications and the figure is generally higher in countries where women’s rights are not sufficiently guaranteed or respected. International instruments have set out governments’ obligations to prevent and respond to violence against women.
Many countries enacted special legislation or established new divisions focused on violence against women, but the results are not good enough. The consequences for women can be fatal. Unless governments are held accountable for promises to prevent and eradicate VAW, prosecute perpetrators and provide adequate support for survivors, the situation will not change.
Gender based violence is affecting societies in African countries including Tanzania and the country has intensified war against the problem yet; the issue cannot and should not be treated as a mission accomplished. It should not be considered mission accomplished because the problem is still big in some parts of the country.
Cultural factors are believed to exacerbate the problem. In Mara Region, the problem is big with different types of gender-based violence being practiced and indeed, this problem bears magnitude consequences especially for women and girls.
Such tradition as women to women marriages (nyumba ntobhu), domestic violence and marriages of young girls (child marriages) are common in the society within Mara Region. Tanzania has ratified a number of international conventions that provide for the rights of women and girls particularly those who are at risk of and affected by child marriages.
In some areas of the region sometimes, a girl is forced to get married in childhood, some as early as at 11 years old, so as to provide for her brother to get a dowry in order to marry.
In most cases, fathers are always at fault because they are the one who at the forefront of arranging the marriage despite young age of their children and in most cases this happens immediately after undergoing Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), which is another worst form of gender violence.
The young girls also suffer because of bride price, which is normally given to the parents of the girl as a way of thanking them and her relatives for taking care of her. The girls pay heavy price of beating and other sort of violence because men thinks they have the right to do so because some of them pay so many cows as dowry.
Beating of women (women battery) is also common in Mara Region, especially in Tarime District. It is believed that Kurya women consider that if they are not beaten by their husbands or lovers, they are not loved.
However, after series of education among women in the region, to some extent, this is changing as women no longer think so, but the men have not changed and still beat them. Beating is a continuous cycle, as it happens between spouses, sometimes a brother also beats his sisters if they do not do house work or they do something wrong.
Some of the girls acknowledged. In efforts to prevent and eradicate gender based violence, the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Simon Sirro said they will continue to prosecute perpetrators and provide adequate support for survivors.
Speaking at an occasion to officially open Police Gender and Children’s Desks (PGCDs) at different police posts in Mara Region recently, IGP Sirro said the situation will not change if offenders are not taken to task and he demanded the desks to operate 24 hours as a response mechanism.
The launch of the Desks in Bunda, Butiama and Serengeti districts from 27 to 29 November coincided with the 16 Days of Activism, a global campaign that calls for an end to gender-based violence (GBV) which runs from 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, to Human Rights Day on 10 December.
The construction of the three PGCDs in Mara Region mean that women who are reporting incidents of violence no longer have to approach the main desk in the police station but are taken to a separate building, where officers–predominantly female–are specially trained to handle cases such as domestic violence, rape and sexual assault.
Officers working at the desks are also closely linked to teams working in the healthcare and social service sectors, maximising efficiencies and ensuring that survivors receive the timely care and support they need to start rebuilding their lives.
IGP Siro came up with ‘reasonable force’ campaign, which police officers are generally allowed to use reasonable not excessive force to take a person into custody.
Sirro visited several police stations and posts in Serengeti, Butiama and Bunda and singled out male dominance culture as a problem in Mara region, insisting that the police force will not tolerate any kind of discrimination and violence in the country.
“It is unfortunate that men in Mara region are using their girl children as source of income. They trade them with cows for dowry. This is inhuman and a backward trend which should not be entertained.” “We cannot tolerate backwardness… all sorts of discrimination and violence, be it gender or of any kind in the country, will be dealt with accordingly,” warned commander Sirro.
The IGP ordered police officers to arrest all men who batter their wives as well as parents who fail to take their children to school but insisted such arrest should not be conducted excessively. Sirro said in 2018, a total of 43,480 cases of gender based violence were reported countrywide and 41,416 cases have so far been reported this year.
He also called on religion leaders to step to preach and pray to their congregations for them to shun practices that cause pain and discriminate others. On his side, Butiama District Commissioner (DC), Annarose Nyamubi said child marriages and early pregnancies remain a big problem in the district, saying that the government is committed to mitigate the problem.
“In some areas, commitments go unmet as prevention and response mechanisms are weak, uncoordinated and often under-resourced,” he said. DC Nyamubi said the problem of gender violence in the district is divided into several segments which include women battery, early pregnancies, impregnating school girls and child marriages.
“I call upon national and international organisations as well as IGP to work closely with our office and I’m convinced that this problem will be solved because we are dealing with human beings, who only need to be educated and in some cases enforcement of the law,” he said.
Several Butiama residents have asked the government to step up efforts in the fight against gender violence, saying the scourge is hurting innocent and the weak section of the society. In response, several men who were reached for the comments in regard to the opening of gender desks in Mara region said it will create a problem and destabilizes marriages.
They argued that some women and girls will develop rebellion. “We have heard what commander Sirro has said but I personally cannot desist beating my wife in case I catch her cheating with another man…I can hardly take this matter to the gender desk,” lamented one of the man, who refused to disclose his name.
Bunda District Commissioner (DC), Ms Lidya Bupilipili said one of the biggest challenges in the district is the use of birth control plan by school going girls, which only suggest that most of them are engaging in underage sex practices.
She complained, “Parents are investing heavily on unnecessary things…they invest into things which have little or no value whatsoever to their families, instead of investing their time and resources in educating their children. In this case, most children especially girls are cut loose and begin to practice bad behaviors.”
In the case of gender violence, Ms Bupilipili said it is unfortunate that the problem has refused to end in the district and in most cases; It is men who mistreat women and girls.
“I’ve never received a case in which a man is butchered by woman but cases of women being attacked by machetes are rampant…it is unfortunate that same of the village leaders do not see it as a problem and they believe that it is part of their customs,” lamented the DC.
Tanzania has ratified a number of international conventions that provide for these rights of girls and young women in the country, particularly those who are at risk of and affected by child marriages. Several stakeholders including the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) have been working closely with the government in the fight against gender based violence.
UNFPA continues to support efforts to build a stronger response to violence against women and children in Tanzania with the launch of three PGCDs in Mara region.
UNFPA, supported by the governments of Norway and Sweden through the One Fund, has equipped PGCDs in Zanzibar and Manyara Region over the past year and continues to support the Children’s Dignity Forum (a Tanzanian NGO) to build the capacity of Police to handle GBV cases effectively, treating survivors with dignity.
An additional three PGCDs, constructed with UNFPA’s support, were set to be launched in Buhigwe, Manyovu and Uvinza, Kigoma Region this month, adding to the 420 plus desks that are now operational across Tanzania and Zanzibar.
UNFPA Representative in Tanzania, Jacqueline Mahon, urged women and children to use the PGCDs in Mara Region and to speak out and break the wall of silence and shame that exists around violence.
Reemphasizing UNFPA Tanzania’s commitment to accelerating efforts to achieve zero GBV against women and girls by 2030 and a Tanzania in which every woman and child enjoys their right to live a life free of violence.
Notwithstanding, the government’s commitment, violence against women is a common occurrence in Mara Region–61 per cent of women (aged 15 to 45 years) have been subjected to physical violence while 23 per cent have experienced sexual violence– both figures higher than the already high national average.
But survivors rarely tell their stories with only 9 per cent of women in Tanzania making a report to the Police, citing limited resources for care and support as their main reason for remaining silent.
Experts say, elimination of violence, including the cultural acceptance of violence, is fundamental to achieving societies where all people have the capacity to live dignified lives free from fear, discrimination and associated poor health outcomes, and all UN member states have signed a commitment to eliminate such violence against women and girls.