Most women experience one or more incidences of sexual assault and harassment in their lifetime.
United Nations (UN Women) estimates that 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives.
The situation is said to be dire in Africa and the Middle East where some of these cases go unreported.
Due to prolonged existence of such assault cases against women over the years, some of them have been forced to live under constant anxiety and fear for their safety. This has affected all aspects of their life, such as socializing – that is, participating in public or private activities, attending public gatherings, and so forth.
Women who feel like they are under constant threat of attack from a man, become extremely cautious before deciding to do anything. If they are to attend an event, they become highly inquisitive before making a decision whether to go or not. In case she has to work late at the office, her mind will be in panic mode, hoping to arrive back home safely.
Faridah Mariri, 27, recalls a few years back when she almost quit her job due to a sexual assault incident she experienced when working at a pharmaceutical company.
She was a victim of unwelcome sexual advances from a male colleague. “He approached me several times, but I adamantly refused,” she says, adding, “I started avoiding him but that didn’t put his advances at bay.”
Faridah was harassed to the point that she almost quit her job. Since no action was being taken by the office management, she decided to take matters into her own hands. “One day while I was having breakfast at the office, the guy came and sat next to me, he started talking to me and demanded response, all of a sudden I was overcome with rage and I grabbed him by the neck. At first, our colleagues thought we were joking around, but little did they know that I was serious and furious. They [colleagues] pleaded with me to let him go. The incident was reported to our boss and the harasser lost his job,” Faridah recounts.
Her colleagues were all surprised by her confidence and strength. They made inquiries, and found out that she was taking karate lessons.
Unlike Faridah who initially joined karate at Annex Goju ryu in Magomeni for fun after being influenced by a friend, Modesta Kwende, 23, joined karate classes at Amani Shotokan located in Mbezi specifically to learn self-defence techniques. “I wanted to defend myself from sexual assault and harassment,” she declares, “but I also wanted to use my karate skills to help other women who are abused,” she adds.
Modesta has experienced several sexual assault incidents. Most of her assault experiences occurred at night, this made her struggle to cope with her job as a food vendor. “I remember one day while leaving my work area at 10pm, as I was walking home after dropping from a Daladala, all of a sudden a man grabbed my hand and asked me to follow him. He started dragging me and I couldn’t fight him because I was afraid he would harm me if I tried anything. Fortunately a car appeared and its headlights made him let go of me,” she narrates. Had it not been for that car, only God knows what would’ve happened to Modesta.
Maria Kimaka, 36, a housewife, never goes to weddings without having someone to accompany her. “My husband doesn’t like to go out at night, but he lets me go out if I have a wedding to attend, however, I have a friend who always accompany me,” she says.
To ensure they get home safely after the ceremony, Maria makes sure she has her own designated Bajaj guy. “I don’t just hire any Bajaj, I have a Bajaj driver whom I’ve built trust with and I keep him alerted whenever I have a late night event to attend,” she adds.
As survivors of assault, Faridah and Modesta have both attended karate classes. Faridah joined in 2014 and Modesta in 2016. Modesta joined karate classes particularly for self-defense training. “Karate has strengthened my confidence and enabled me to defend myself against sexual assault attempts,” says Faridah. She adds that if it wasn’t for karate, she would have quit her job due to pressure and anxiety.
Veronica Gerald, 32, points out that women, just like men, have rights to walk at night. “Life makes us take different paths especially in making ends meet. There should be no obstacles for us women to involve ourselves in social activities or work at night just because we are afraid that some men will attack us,” she says.
She however advises women to take extra precaution if they have to go out or work at night. She shares some of her self-defense methods she uses when walking at night. “I make sure that I don’t go out with a lot of money, I just carry my transport fare.”
Veronica adds that, she avoids using her handbag or wallet by holding money in her hands; she only walks with one identity card; avoids taking her ATM cards. “Most importantly I carry my body spray. I never walk without one even if it is day time. If someone tries to attack you, you spray it on their faces, they will lose their sight for some time, this will give you an opportunity to run away,” she explains.
Happy Kweyamba, 28, says that she normally takes note of the plate numbers of the taxis, bajaj or bodadodas she hires and texts the plate numbers to a close relative or friend so that they will locate the perpetrator in case anything happens to her. “It’s really terrifying to walk at night but sometimes you have no choice,” she says.
Neema Nathan, 37, says there are a number of self-defence mechanisms a woman can use if she runs into bad people at night, but first she advises women to avoid walking at night if they can. “I rarely walk at night, I avoid attending wedding ceremonies at night especially if my husband is away and there is no one at home to accompany me. I drive, but I am very scared to drive at night because in case of emergency I will be helpless,” Neema says.
She adds, “Some women carry battery acid, which is also dangerous to those who carry it, but others carry razor blades and pepper spray. All in all, it is very important to pray and ask for God’s protection.”
Phillip Chikoko, Shinah (Chief Instructor) at Shotokan Karate International federation Tanzania (SKITA), has seen many women joining karate classes. Most of whom join to learn self-defense techniques. Instructor Phillip points out that being physically fit is important, however it’s not always physical strength that will get a woman out of a dangerous situation. “That is why women who attend karate classes for self-defense are also told of other techniques to use,” he says.
“We practise karate mainly for protecting other beings from danger, not just to protect ourselves. But people, including women ,who join karate classes for self-defense, are told to always try as much as possible to avoid putting themselves in unsafe situations, that is rule number one of self-defence,” he says.
He adds, “I always tell women who attend karate classes for self-defence training that they should not get themselves in trouble purposely. If a burglar wants your handbag, just hand it politely; if you have two ways to reach your home, try to use the safest way, avoid shortcuts if they will put you in danger. If you think driving in a taxi at night may make you feel unsafe, find another option, do not walk at night, stay at home instead.” Karate skills, like fighting, should only be the last option in case you don’t have another way out. “Karate does not make you a superwoman, it just adds to your self-defence techniques,” he says.
Charles Nduku,a psychologist says that women who have been sexually assaulted, apart from experiencing physical effects, can also experience psychological implications. “Most survivors lose self-esteem, feel inferior and their performance in doing different things can be affected,” he says.
He adds that sexual assault in women could also affect the way they raise their children, for example prohibiting them from socializing. Because of the effects and trauma they have experienced, they tend to develop conclusive judgments by categorizing all men in one bracket. “They also become unhappy, the worries and fears make it difficult for them to trust people, and their personalities may change the way they perceive things and how they handle some issues,” says Charles.
Despite these effects, the psychologist believes that women who have been sexually assaulted can overcome fears and anxiety if they accept what happened to them and choose to move on. They could also maximize security by walking in the company of close people. “They also need psychological consultation so they can be helped to overcome their fears. Sharing their problems to closest people is very helpful because sharing is half solving the problem. Most importantly, they should avoid the environment which caused the problem,” he further adds.
However, the best self-defence techniques every person needs to know is: always stay alert and avoid danger.
According to a 2010 Demographic and Health Survey as reported by this paper on November 4, 2017, 45 per cent of 15 to 49-year olds reported having been sexually abused.