Violence against women and girls & child marriage is widespread in some of Tanzania’s rural regions. After a visit to Shinyanga, a northern province, Youth For Change team member Upendo writes about some of the realities facing girls, and the cultural, social and legal factors that are mounted against them.
Imagine – a 9 years girl child on her way home from school. Out of nowhere, an older man chases her with a bicycle, captures her, force her into bush, rapes her and leave her. Because of taboos and culture she remains silent and she can’t say "no". All she can do is lower her head and obey the man’s voice.
This happens every day in Tanzania’s rural areas - UNICEF reports that almost 30% of girls experience sexual violence during childhood, and a quarter of those survivors states that the attacks took place on their way to or from school.
Girls are at risk at school too. Some girls have been experienced sexual violence, such as unwanted touching and rape, and there are some cases where teachers have impregnated young girls. Because of taboos, fear and lack of confidence, girls cannot speak out against these injustices.
“Even home is not safe”
A girl can survive being attached on her way to or from school - but even home is not safe. Parents can decide to receive bride price and allow the union of a 12 years old girl with a 42 year old man. This is viewed as part of tradition – part of the natural order of life. According to Human Rights watch report, 59% of girls in Shinyanga were married before the age of 18.
Particularly in pastoralist societies, women have no right to decision making, no rights to education, to own properties, or even to speak in public, All of this adds up to a situation where women lack rights or protection. Women are just like children - “voiceless”.
Girls cannot rely on the law
Girls are afraid of police - bribes and impunity are widespread, and bureaucracy threatens girls who report; hence they opt to keep silence. On top of this, even for those who do turn to the courts, conflicting acts and laws make achieving justice difficult. For instance, the conflict between the Marriage Act of 1971 and the Law of a Child of 2009 make judgments complex and makes it hard to pursue legal recourse
Society is not safe, school is not safe, home is not safe, police, local government leaders are not safe, courts are not safe. Where can we girls run to when we need to report and seek help? Society, especially males is taking advantage of lifestyle and culture, while females are in the middle of the unknown, becoming main victims of traditions and harmful cultural norms.
Girls need security, inspiration and they need to be empowered to develop their confidence. We need to work with Government to improve reporting measures, and build trust in the law and police. As Youth For Change, we want to create a world where girls no longer need to feel fear – join us!