Every year, we hold 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children campaign from November 25 (International Day for No Violence Against Women) to December 10 (International Human Rights Day).
The idea to hold 16 days against violence against women and children is a robust recognition of the need to address this cancer, which continues to eat away at our families, communities and nations.
We make speeches, hold workshops, and even demonstrate in countries where we are allowed to do so without inviting a truncheon on your head or a rubber bullet – or worse – on your chest. Yes, we do our best to make this issue so visible that it has to be addressed.
And I admire all those who have committed their time and resources to do that and, even more, those who have gone into the communities to work with the women and supportive men to address the issue at its source.
However, in addition to all their great work, how much have we enabled the invisible people to become visible, or do we want them to become visible?
Teleza case study
For those who remember the issue of Teleza in Kigoma, women living alone in one part of Kigoma Town were being invaded and raped in their homes on an almost daily basis.
When discussed at the ward and council level, it was dismissed as a small matter which was being addressed, but further investigation showed a large number of women had been affected physically and psychologically – at least one was believed to have committed suicide as a result.
But when the issue was raised publicly, having first written to the higher authorities and having yet to receive a reply, the highest authorities complained that the publicising of such an issue took attention away from the announcement of the recognition of Serengeti as a top tourist destination globally!
Those who raised the issue were blamed for impolite and unpatriotic behaviour. So much for saying no to violence against women and children! I hear the issue has finally been addressed, but how many invisible women suffered before that?
On a personal level, I remember that I used to buy bread regularly from a young street vendor in Mwenge, Dar es Salaam. Then she disappeared, and when I inquired what had happened, her fellow vendors, also young women, laughed and said:
“Haven’t you heard? She was gang raped.”
“Gang raped? What! How?”
“Oh, there was this guy who she kept on refusing, so he gathered his friends, and they gang raped her as she walked home one night after selling her bread.”
Even those young women somehow felt she had brought it on herself for having the audacity to turn a man down. As they say, rape is an issue of power, not even sex, most of the time.
Even the Teleza guys seemed to be targetting single women because they were women who dared to make a living on their own without depending on any such wonderful men.
Elsewhere, when my wife was conducting a workshop in Newala on Sexual and Reproductive Health, one bright young man said he did not need to masturbate when he felt horny because women were ready and waiting in plenty!
When she asked him what if the girl refused, he replied proudly that he would rape her. There was no shame or actual condemnation from any of the other participants in the workshop.
Then, when I researched vulnerability in Dar es Salaam some time ago, we found such issues as a girl who had joined a brothel because she felt safer in the brothel than living at home. At least in the brothel, the men had to go through the ‘Madam’ so she had some kind of protection.
Another girl, 12 years old, was told that if she did not bring money home every evening, she would not be given any food. Finally, at the very last minute, we found that our statistics of rape for that area were wrong because, in the view of people there, forced sex was not rape. It was only rape if more than one man was involved.
It is all very well to say that such girls and women should speak up, but what kind of protection do they have if they do so? Do we remember the woman who took her partner to the police for violently beating her? He was put in remand prison, and she went to withdraw her complaint, after which he came out of remand prison and killed her!
War on sex workers
OK, so we now have yet another campaign against women making a living, or trying to make a living, from providing sexual services to men. I remember a previous regional commissioner who fulminated against such women and insisted that anyone who defended them was their client.
Fortunately or unfortunately, there was an out-of-school youth programme where young people in every ward produced theatre on issues facing them in their communities.
The RC was invited as guest of honour, said he was very busy and could only stay half an hour, but as one ward performance after another showed the plight of young women in the wards, he remained until the end several hours later.
We asked him if all these young people were the girls’ clients. He did not reply, but a few days later, he changed his tune when girls were rounded up and went to see them. He said it was clear that they were poverty-driven.
I remembered one girl my intern – female, in case you are wondering –found outside Oyster Bay Hotel in those days. She was 16 years old, in Standard Seven, standing on the street looking for clients.
When my intern asked her why, she said her parents had died, and her relatives came and took all her parents’ property. They left her with an empty room and her younger brother and sister. So, she was standing on the road to get money to buy food for her younger brother and sister. Who should have been arrested in that case?
If we multiply these stories by 100, 1,000 and more, we will realise that even 16 days are not enough. And here, I have only talked about one kind of violence. How much of this violence has been addressed?
I know we have MTAKUWWA committees officially in every ward and community, but how much do they have the commitment, training and resources to address all such issues?
In Liberia, they declared violence against women and children – yes, and some men!– a security issue on a par with the danger of renewed civil war. Is there not an invisible war going on? How ready are we to address it before giving addresses?
Richard Mabala is an educator, poet, and author. He is available at email@example.com or on X (Twitter) as @MabalaMakengeza. These are the writer’s own opinions, and they do not necessarily represent the viewpoint of The Chanzo. Do you want to publish in this space? Contact our editors at firstname.lastname@example.org for further inquiries.