Struggle continues for African women and girls

Under traditional laws in many of the communities in the Northern Zone, namely the Maasai, the Meru, Barbaig, Iraqw (Mbulu) and Chagga, girls do not inherit property (especially land) and their mothers do not have any say in the matter either. 

Last week Arusha hosted an East African regional gender week which was held to commemorate the annual International Women's Day observed on the 8th of March.

The climax of the four-day event was staged at the open space adjacent to the Kijenge Roundabout junction where the ceremony was marked with traditional dances, songs, recitals and short plays. A Municipal Community Development Officer, Ms Donatila Johnson Shayo, read out a statement before the gathering just across the road where a group of local women traders displayed fruit and vegetables, hoping to attract customers from the traffic along the Nyerere Road.

"Women cannot trade in peace either, even when they try to make ends meet without depending on their husbands," screamed Ms Shayo through loudspeakers placed at the venue.  "Women traders are beaten and have their wares confiscated by practically every type of authority, both real and self-proclaimed," she stated.

And all this is taking place in the town where women are believed to be better off compared to their rural counterparts. The 2002 National population census places the number of women in Arusha at 143,675 but with an annual growth of 3.2 per cent, the female population could be around 200,000 at the moment.

They are reportedly more women than men. Many Arusha residents live outside the City and boost the number to nearly 600,000 during the day with 60 per cent of that being women. According to the statement that was read out, men believe that an independent woman is stubborn and insolent.

Not knowing how to live with their partners, some men end up beating their partners and this problem is more rampant in the Northern and Lake Zones. The programme coordinator for Gender and Mining with the Arusha-based, Haki-Madini organisation, Ms Mlay, explained further that Tanzania ranks 5th among the top 50 countries in the world with the highest rates of cases of violence against women and girls after Pakistan, Egypt, Nigeria and South-Africa.

"But most women in Tanzania take violence and other forms of ill treatment against them to be normal suppressing their suffering under traditional customs and beliefs, religious affiliations, intimidations and ignorance," said the activist.  "In Arusha for instance, nobody ever talks about gender based violence, not even non-government organizations and other activist groups," said Ms Mlay. 

"Here people talk about Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), but never about other forms of violence against women and girls in general," she said.  At the regional level, women living along borderline separating East African member states are more vulnerable to acts of violence than their counterparts residing further inland.

Speaking during the EAC gender week, the international sports icon Ambassador, Dr Tegla Loroupe from Kenya, said the borderline precinct on the continent are more susceptible to political and territorial violence.  "War has become business in Africa, individuals who find conflicts to be an opportunity to make money through weapon smuggling, looting and lobbying," said Dr Loroupe.

The activist also pointed out that, children from nomadic pastoralist communities are more likely to be used as conduits during conflicts through smuggling weapons or trained to be child soldiers.  "Because many of these youngsters don't go to school and thus do not define what is wrong or right and can be lured into battle fields easily under simple promises or gifts," said the envoy.

Dr Loroupe pointed out that, at worst, the same children may be deployed to kill their own mothers. Speaking on behalf of the East African Community's Secretary General, the Director of Infrastructure at EAC, Mr Philip Wambugu, said the Arusha-based secretariat will include gender issues in all its programmes especially those dealing with the proliferation of small arms.  "In the area of arms it is usually men who use and misuse them but their elimination will certainly incorporate women as peace makers and gender capacities for lasting peace," said Wambugu.

THE beautiful country of Tanzania is without a ...

Author: Marc Nkwame in Arusha

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