Mobilising Communities to End Violence against Women

Calls for women's rights and emancipation echoed across Mwanza's streets during the one week celebration of International Women's Day. The week long celebrations were held at different venues of Mwanza town, bordering Lake Victoria from 1st to the 8th of March 2010. They attracted participation from diverse sectors of Tanzania's social and political landscape including policy-makers, champions of women's rights as well as community action groups.

During one of the public meetings held at the Gandhi Grounds, Cabinet Minister Celina Kombani urged more women to lobby for positions where they can influence decision making on gender related issues. She also expressed optimism by noting that the number of women in decision-making positions had increased over the last 15 years. She attributed part of the success to government willingness to implement its promise made to recognise gender equality in public service.

"In Mwanza Region alone, three out of the eight district commissioners are women," said Ms Kombani adding that 109 out of over 300 parliamentarians were female.

A public discussion and exchange session held on the 4th of March attracted more than 400 participants from different fields of public service including the security sector and community development. Members of the audience engaged in debates on matters of women's rights to seek deeper understanding about local factors that continue to obstruct the fight to end impunity for sexual and gender based violence.

More than 70% of those present at the public event were women. They confirm that there are issues of gender and women's rights within the local communities that require firm action.

A member of the Youth to Youth Community Group observed that both men and women have a significant role to play in ensuring that gender issues are addressed among communities in Mwanza. He urged members of the public and human rights groups to lobby law makers to institute stiffer penalties against perpetrators of violence against women, including heavy fines, long jail sentences and life imprisonment for grievous offences.

Most participants felt that men who abuse their positions of power against young girls and women should face the law. According to local reports from Mwanza, there were increasing incidents of politicians and other influential people using intimidation to sexually abuse or taking advantage of the prevailing poverty to gain favours unrightfully from vulnerable girls.

The need for community members themselves taking up initiatives to halt violence against women and girls was constantly brought to the attention of the participants. "Our communities need to capitalise on the opportunities to empower ourselves and be able to fast-track our own local agenda at community level. We need not wait too long for the government to initiate development as we sit back in comfort zones. We too can plan our projects and mobilise communities towards sustainable development and women's rights", urged Sakina, a participant.

Ending Impunity and Gender Based Abuses

Sadly, regardless of the existence of frameworks that protect the rights of women, gender based violence still continues to thrive among communities in Tanzania attributed to the social systems where men dominate and control resources and decision-making. Study findings by Kivulini women's rights organisation on the state of sexual and gender based violence conducted in 2009 in the regions of Mwanza and Shinyanga indicated that 72% of the women considered sexual and gender based violence a normal act and 30% said community leaders did not provide adequate support to survivors of sexual abuse.

But all is not lost. According to ACORD's gender officer in Tanzania Lokola Ndibalema, there are collaborative efforts between Tanzanian Government and civil society organisations towards improving the implementation of various policies and legal frameworks around gender.

"Gender equality and respect provides a basis to achieving just and equal social economic development amongst communities", says Lokola.

ACORD has duly noted that in 2010, one of the main challenges that will be encountered in the effort to end impunity for gender based violence is lack of sufficient knowledge of judicial processes, transitional justice and human rights among community based organisations and communities themselves.

In addition, other challenges anticipated include the regional nature of conflicts and the realities of trafficking of persons across porous borders. ACORD urges all stakeholders to sustain the momentum to end impunity for gender based violence and uphold the rights of women. ACORD is prioritising sexual and gender based violence as a focus of its gender thematic work within the Pan African context. ACORD's recent sub regional project funded by the MDG3 Fund of the Dutch Government is one such initiative geared towards combating violence against women with the focus being on women and girls in situations of conflict.

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Making the Law Count: A Synthesis Audit of Legal Practice on Sexual Violence in the Great Lakes Region