Dar es Salaam. A heated debate is taking place right now in Tanzania following a decision by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working on women’s issues to criticise a government plan that names men as victims of gender-based violence alongside women and children.
In its joint declaration on Wednesday, the Women’s Network on Constitution, Election and Leadership, whose members include leading NGOs like Msichana Initiative and TGNP, demanded the removal of men as victims of GBV in the updated National Plan of Action to End Violence Against Women, Children and Men.
The new plan follows the expiry of the Five-year National Plan of Action to End Violence Against Women and Children (2017/18 – 2021/22) launched on December 13, 2016, which stakeholders agree played a key role in the efforts to end GBV in Tanzania.
“The plan should continue to recognize women and children as the groups most affected by GBV,” the NGOs said in their joint declaration. “By recognizing men as victims of GBV, the plan ultimately loses its intended objectives.”
The NGOs said that men should continue working as allies in the efforts to end violence against women and children but they should not be recognized as the victims of GBV themselves.
“Men can continue reporting acts of GBV committed against them using the existing legal mechanisms without interfering with efforts that have been taken to liberate women and children,” the NGOs declared.
Speaking during a press conference on Wednesday, the Executive Director of Msichana Initiative Rebeca Gyumi said that based on available data on GBV in Tanzania men, collectively, are more perpetrators than victims of gender-based violence.
“Men have been reported as the main perpetrators of violence against women and children,” Gyumi told reporters. “While they might be allies in the efforts to end the practice, we don’t see the reason why, as a group, should men be considered as the victims.”
A counterproductive move
But the stance taken by the NGOs was not welcomed by most people as some commentators pointed out that removing men as victims of GBV was not only discriminative but also a counterproductive move.
“Women and children being mostly affected by GBV do not mean that there are no men who are victims of the practice,” said Imani Luvanga, a journalist and founder of the Dig It with Imani the Podcast in a Twitter post. “It is not right to argue for the removal of men from the plan for even among children there are boys.”
Joyce Msigwa, the founder of Meltores Professional, a research think-tank, questioned the NGOs’ approach, wondering if the campaigners thought about the issue of inclusion before coming up with the proposal.
“This declaration smells discrimination,” Ms Msigwa said in a Twitter post. “There has been an increase in the number of GBV incidents against men. The goal should be ending GBV against all people. We have to think again.”
According to figures from the World Bank, 40 per cent of all women aged 15-49 years in Tanzania have experienced physical violence, while 17 per cent have experienced sexual violence.
Of women aged 15-49, 44 per cent have experienced either physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner.
Spousal violence prevalence is highest in rural areas, averaging 52 per cent while the prevalence in urban areas averages 45 per cent. Almost 30 per cent of girls experience sexual violence before the age of 18, the World Bank notes.
Data on violence against men are hard to get in Tanzania as most studies concentrate on examining violence committed against women and children. But reports of men being victims of gender-based violence tend to surface on an occasional basis.
On July 16, 2021, for instance, it was reported that a woman in Mbezi Makabe, Dar es Salaam set a house on fire while her husband was inside, leading to the man’s death. It was reported that the source of the conflict was a misunderstanding between the two.
While some criticised the NGOs for their declaration, others, including men, threw their support behind the organisations, agreeing with their analysis.
One of these people is Mr Onesmo Mushi, an education activist and researcher, who commented that including men in the plan to end gender-based violence does away with the concept of minority groups.
READ MORE: What Motivates Violence Against Women?
“Men, collectively, are the perpetrators of gender-based violence and the beneficiaries of the practice,” Mr Mushi said in a Twitter post.
“The reality is that there is a group of men and a group of women and thanks to existing social systems men’s group is more powerful than the women’s group,” Mushi added in another tweet.
One commentator on Twitter, @Chammy_255, accused those criticising the NGOs’ stance of “trying to ‘All Lives Matter’ the issue.”
“Everyone understands affirmative action until it’s a group they identify with that’s involved,” wrote the Twitter user.
“The way they’re trying to ‘All Lives Matter’ the issue as if they don’t understand who is disproportionately more affected than the other and who needs the most urgent interventions is mad!” he added.