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Violence, by any other name, is still violence

VIOLENCE against women and girls is one of the most widespread human rights violations in the world. It knows no social, economic or national boundaries. It threatens the health, dignity, safety and freedom of its victims, yet it remains blanketed in a culture of silence.

Victims of violence can undergo sexual and reproductive health consequences, including unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions, sexually transmitted infections and even death.

There is need for the responsible authorities to design education programmes to sensitize parents and the public in identifying and reporting alleged Gender-Based Violence (GBV) incidents for legal measures, this may safeguard victims from further abuse, and this should go hand in hand with the firming up of the legal system to guarantee proper handling of abuse incidents.

GBV is prevalent and common in Tanzania, and according to the 2015/16 Tanzania Demographic Health Survey (TDHS), four in every ten women and girls aged 15 to 49 years have experienced physical violence in their lifetime. Similarly, three in every ten girls are married before their 18th birthday.

At the climax of the 16 Days of Activism against GBV in December 2020, Tanzania Media Women's Association (TAMWA) in collaboration with the US embassy in Tanzania called on the community to identify and report incidents of GBV at the family, school, college and workplace levels.

Despite efforts by various non-governmental organisations and the government in Tanzania, there are still incidents of rape, beatings, sexual corruption, abuse, early pregnancies and marriages. 16 Days of Activism is an international campaign to challenge violence against women and girls.

The campaign runs every year from 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, Human Rights Day. It was initiated in 1991 by the first Women's Global Leadership Institute, held by the Centre for Women's Global Leadership (CWGL) at Rutgers University.

The theme for the 2020 campaign ‘End Gender-Based Violence: Change begins with me!’ invoked each one of us to change and play our part, however small in realising a brighter and more equal future for women and girls and a world free of GBV.

“This theme gave us (TAMWA) and other organisations that advocate for women empowerment the strength to call on the society to change by breaking the silence, because without reporting these incidents, the state organs will not be able to do its job properly. We urge the community to expose the perpetrators to bring about real change in our society,” Rose Reuben, TAMWA Executive Director says.

“If we remain silent on these incidents, we will not be able to find a lasting solution, so it is important to report and cooperate with state agencies so that appropriate measures can be taken,” she said.

According to her, during October and November 2020, there have been several cases of child sexual abuse, which indicates that awareness may not have reached many people and there has been a tendency to not report such incidents. Increased awareness of the root causes should go hand in hand with measures to encourage parents and survivors to report incidents to relevant authorities as they occur.

An article titled ‘5 reasons why people stay silent about being abused’ published by psychcentral.com has outlined such reasons as normalisation, minimisation, shame, fear, isolation, betrayal and lack of support. Abuse and trauma are common experiences that everyone relates to, at least to some degree. However, talking about it, and especially seeking justice, can be complicated and challenging.

“We live in a broken society where abuse is normalised, played down, or invalidated, and the abused victim is isolated, betrayed, or afraid of the consequences of their just, brave, and necessary actions. Even the very people who are supposedly there to protect us and help us, such as parents, family members, therapists, only make things worse, so we end up feeling even more isolated and betrayed,” the article reads in part.

Men Engage Tanzania (MET) Representative, Marcella Lungu said in the fight against GBV, men should not be left behind and they should be properly involved so that they can be the catalyst for change in society. An observation that was backed up by statistics of people who attended counselling services coordinated by Ilala regional police in December 2020 shows cases of violence against men are increasing, but the victims feel shy to report to relevant authorities.

The services that were offered for 13 days through a mobile clinic, attracted 820 men, of whom 90 per cent complained of facing acts related to gender-based violence in their matrimonial life. The services were offered as part of the 16-days of activism.

The coordinator of the programme, Assistant Inspector of Police, Dr Christina Onyango said 90 per cent of the total 820 men who turned up for the service reported being physically harassed by their wives, including being denied basic rights such as food and conjugal rights. Dr Willow Williamson, Political Officer at the US Embassy in Tanzania said GBV is defined as any act that is directed at someone because of their gender.

“Psychological GBV is any act that causes emotional harm and targets someone because of their gender. Some examples include controlling or restricting someone’s movements, threatening another person, verbally disrespecting and degrading another person,” she elaborated.

Dr Williamson further said economic GBV is any action that causes economic harm to someone because of their gender. This can include withholding family finances, spending jointly earned income without consent or preventing someone from getting an education or earning their income.

“You can’t see the harm caused by psychological or economic GBV but they can be just as painful and often they lead to physical or sexual violence. GBV is a problem everywhere, that’s why it is crucial to understand what it looks like. Worldwide, one in 3 women experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, most frequently with their partner,” said Dr Williamson.

The Officer asserted that the interconnection between GBV and trafficking in person’s victims, 71 per cent of human trafficking victims worldwide are women and girls, and three out of four of these women and girls are sexually exploited.

“The US embassy sees tackling violence against women as a human rights imperative, violence threatens women’s and girl’s safety, and it sets barriers to their potential for prosperity or filling leadership roles,” she said.

She added, “Far too often perpetrators aren’t held accountable for their crimes and many survivors don’t receive the support they need to fully recover, this is why we are working to support our great partners such as TAMWA here in Tanzania to not only support survivors, but also to reduce and prevent GBV.” The US embassy supports programmes that fight GBV through a partnership with organisations in Tanzania.

Some of their health and education programmes include empowerment components for reducing GBV. For example, in the "Waache Wasome" (Let them Learn) programme, they helped support clubs where youths learned about protection against school-related GBV.

Apart from these activities reaching almost 1,500 teachers and 4,000 students in 2020, they also awarded the Julia Taft Grant to Women’s Legal Aid Centre in a project that aims to reduce GBV in refugee’s camps and communities in Kigoma region. Through their education campaigns and collaboration with local government and community groups, they are working to raise awareness about GBV and to provide support for victims.

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