WHEN Husna Kaimukirwa’s husband died of malaria last year at Rubafu village, in Bugabo Division of Bukoba Rural District she was kicked out of their home by his family and forced to marry his brother.
The 28-year-old discovered she had syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease that can lead to blindness and stroke if untreated, after staying for some time with her new husband. “He accused me of infidelity. He called a meeting of our families and told them I was a prostitute,” she said tearfully.
“Everyone accused me of being a witch and said it was I who had killed my husband ... my mother-inlaw threatened to kill me,” added Kaimukirwa, who fled with her two daughters to Kashai Ward, in Bukoba Municipality where she lives in an old wooden shack selling charcoal to earn a living.
Ms Kaimukirwa added that her husband never allowed her to have a job, because he wanted her to stay at home and take care of the children. When she tried to educate him on this issue, her husband beat her brutally and told her that she is just a woman and he is the head of the family, so she has to obey him always.
Many widows are left destitute and robbed of their property. Many, like Kaimukirwa, are abused and exploited by their in-laws, forced to undergo cleansing rituals or marry one of their husband’s relatives in a practice known as widow inheritance.
Some women in Tanzania are subject to gender based violence whether they are aware of it or not. The situation has caused them to suffer physically and psychologically. In various societies women don’t have the right to own property and they are often regarded as simply a tool for enjoyment.
Men, just take women for granted and regard them as weak since they cannot react to them and so they take that opportunity to torture them and violate their rights. Traditional cleansing rituals are intended to rid a widow of her husband’s spirit. In some communities widows are forced to have sex with a stranger, in others they have to clean their husband’s corpse and then drink the dirty water. Widow inheritance, cleansing rites and the eviction of women from their homes are fuelling the transmission of HIV across the continent.
According to the Tanzania Legal and Human Rights Centre 2012 Report, some of the tribes in the country have been practicing widow inheritance and cleansing.
This act involves the widow to be taken or inherited by one of the husband’s relatives, typically a brother or younger brother of the deceased husband. There are also those who are forced to undergo a sexual act with one of the husband’s relatives on account that they have to be cleansed or purified.
The practice of widow cleansing is common in Makete District in Njombe region as well it is prevalent in the Lake Zone regions. The practice of widow inheritance and cleansing puts women at risk of acquiring HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.
The Legal Human Rights Centre considers widow inheritance and cleansing as some of the effects of the Law of the Marriage Act due to its silence on bride price. The LHRC suggests that there ought to be some amendments of the Law of the Marriage Act to safeguard personal liberties of widows in the country.
Despite the Government’s attempts to rectify the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and the granting of Cabinet Decision No 23 of 1996 to increase women in all decision making levels such as Board of Directors, Heads of Institutions, and Commissioners and in national delegations, there is still a wide gap between women and men in political spheres and decision making roles.
Traditionally, women are not expected to influence the decision-making processes, from the domestic level to the national level. In terms of family attitudes, men are considered to be the head of the household
. These attitudes are rigidly based on patriarchal structures, which limit women’s voices from influencing the allocation of domestic resources. Statistics by the Inter- Parliamentary Union (IPU) found that the global average of women in parliament by the end of 2012 stood at 20.3 per cent up from 19.5 per cent in 2011.
The quotas by themselves are insufficient; they need to motivate, accompanied by sanctions for non-compliance, they should be placed in winnable positions, and encouraged in political commitment to comprise women’s parliamentary participation, reads the IPU report. The government recognises that the advancement and achievement of gender equality is a matter of human rights and a condition for social justice.
This is according to the various laws that were addressed by the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania of 1977, such as; everyone has the right to work, to education and other pursuits (Act. 6). As well as the equality of human beings No.15 of 1984 Act.
Tanzanians have until now had tenuous rights to the land they rely on to feed their families. Though Tanzania’s Land Act and Village Land Act (both passed in 1999) provide for women’s ownership of land, customary practices regarding marriage and inheritance continue to discriminate heavily against women. The current constitution upholds equal rights to property for men and women, but does not clarify whether the law or custom take precedent when there is a conflict.
And such a conflict exists in communities across the nation, undermining women’s rights. Customary practices often require women to access land through their fathers, brothers, husbands or other men who control the land. This makes women vulnerable and decreases agricultural productivity.
When women lose their connection to this male relative, either through death, divorce or migration, they can lose their land, home and means of supporting themselves and their families.