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How Zanzibar is moving forward to curb GBV

“WE have already set up special courts to handle genderbased violence cases”, this was one of the key messages from President Hussein Ali Hassan Mwinyi at the climax of International Workers Day held at the ‘Sheikh Idrissa Abdulwakil multipurpose Hall.’

He informed workers and members of the public through live broadcast speech that the establishment of the court is among the ongoing initiatives by the government to improve working environment for its workers aimed at efficiency and delivery of better services.

It was in January this year when Dr Mwinyi announced plans to set up special courts dedicated to gender-based violence (GBV) and related cases to protect women, children and other vulnerable groups. In a meeting with key stakeholders: high-ranking government officers, religious leaders, NGOs engaged in women and children rights defenders, and other groups, Mwinyi challenged them “We all need to stand firm against GBV.”

He then directed the establishment of special court to deal with GVB cases and strengthening of collaboration with police, medical staffs, and judiciary system to ensure justice all sexual violence related cases. Several researches and data from different sources including police and Human rights defenders shows that cases of gender-based violence encompassing intimate partner violence in the form of physical or sexual assault, sexual abuse of minor children and imbeciles has increased at an alarming rate.

At the January this year meeting with the president, the High Court registrar, the Commissioner of Police (CP)-Zanzibar, and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) gave an alarming statistics on the problem, which they blamed on weak legislation, moral decay, and lack of cooperation among members of the society.

Monthly statistics on GBV from the Office of Chief Government Statistician (OCGS), the March this year data shows that a total of 141 people were victims compared with 136 incidents in March last year. The victims include 20 women (up from 12 last year), 89 girls (dropped from103 last year), and 32 boys (from 21 in March 2020).

The recorded offences include rape, sodomites, abduction for sexual intention, and defilement. The Isles Chief Justice Omar Othman Makungu confirmed here that the special courts are already operational in all regions of Zanzibar (Unguja and Pemba) and highly expected to address the disturbing rise in GBV.

“We moved faster as directed by the president. We also have special magistrates in each, five administrative regions, to handle the cases,” Judge Makungu said adding that the special courts will ensure that all GBV cases shall be treated as urgent applications and be given expedited management and disposal.

“Such cases shall be prioritized and they will no further delays in handling the cases on any pretext,” Justice Makungu said while many local people and human rights activists praise the government for the swift changes. The Tanzania Media Women Association ( T A M W A ) - Zanzibar’s Director, Dr Mzuri Issa Ali commended President Mwinyi for the speedy reforms in handling of GBV related cases. She had earlier, before the ongoing changes, complained about lack of or insufficient political will in dealing with the cases and said that could be linked to increasing sexual offences and other violation of women and children rights’ in the country.

Ms Ali, had highlighted that the country has inadequate resources for GBV response and lacks an integrated response system that brings together police, judiciary and health officials, activists and the media. Many young people such as Ms Amina Suleiman, a form four student has welcomed the improvements in addressing GBV, as she called on the youth to play a leading role eradicating of violence against women and children.

The Minister responsible for gender and children development Mr Nassor Ahmed Mazrui said the government was fully committed to protect the rights of every citizen and to end GBV.

“The government has pledged to step up commitment and actions to end gender-based violence because it is possible to achieve the goal. We need support of everyone,” the Minister said as he called on members of the public to work together to ensure perpetrators of this crime are held accountable for their transgressions.

Data from different international organizations such WHO, UNICEF, and SAVE-the-Children indicate that gender-based violence remains one of the world’s leading human rights violation and that ending it should be seen as a collective responsibility by all. According to UN-Women, the UN ‘Handbook for Legislation on Violence Against Women’ recommends that laws “provide for the creation of specialized courts or special court proceedings guaranteeing timely and efficient handling of cases of violence against women.”

When they have adequate resources, there is evidence that specialized units in the justice system are more responsive and effective in enforcing laws on violence against women. Specialized courts provide a stronger possibility that court personnel will be gender-sensitive, experienced in the unique characteristics of violence against women cases, and may be able to process cases more quickly, reducing the burden on victims.

Specialized domestic violence courts have been established with positive results in some countries around the world including Brazil, Nepal, Spain, the United Kingdom, Uruguay, Venezuela, and several states in the USA. UNICEF says that violence is rooted in a number of social, economic and cultural factors that impact community, families, relationships and the manner in which women and children experience their daily lives in Zanzibar.

In particular gender inequities and a social tolerance of violence make women and children specifically vulnerable to sexual, physical and emotional violence. A key factor contributing to this vulnerability is a social tolerance of violence against women and children. At least one third of both men and women believe that wife-beating by a husband is justified in certain circumstances.

However, there is also an increasing political and public awareness concerning violence against women and children in Zanzibar and a growing coalition of key stakeholders committed to taking action. Most recently the improvement of laws by making rape among non bailable offences, and the opening up of the special courts after the ongoing ‘National Plan of Action to End Violence Against Women and Children 2017-2022,’ launched in August in 2017.

The Government declared that violence against women and children is not inevitable and can be stopped. In 2015 Zanzibar received the distinguished Gold Future Policy Award for its Children’s Act 2011 and in 2016 the United Republic of Tanzania was nominated as a Pathfinder Country under the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children.

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