For almost 14 years Shukuru John* stayed in marriage, however she never enjoyed her matrimonial life. Her violent husband had put her through hell. Bullying and beating her was the order of the day.
According to Shukuru, no one in the family seemed to sympathize with her. Despite being aware of the violent acts of her abusive husband, neither the in-laws nor parents took firm measures to step in and rescue her.
“What they all told me was to endure everything that was going on,” says Shukuru as tears flowed freely from her eyes.
For so long she had been telling her close family members about the abusive husband but no one seemed care. Being a pastor’s daughter, Shukuru was supposed to endure all the pain she has been undergoing in her marriage and just pray for her husband, hoping that one day he might change his behaviour.
“One day my husband came home late at night and started to complain that I’m the main cause of his poverty and misery. I told myself that I have to be calm and keep quiet as I normally do to avoid more beatings,” narrates Shukuru.
However, Shukuru’s husband was not impressed by her wife’s self-composure. “I was severely beaten that day to the extent that I felt there is no more left for me in this life. I decided to leave. I can’t forget that fateful day,” she recalls.
After the incident, Shukuru reported the abuse to a police station. Surprisingly, all her family members were up in arms against her. “They all said what I have decided to do will not help to save the situation; instead it will add more shame to the family and ruin the family reputation,” she explains.
Shukuru’s case is a series of very sad accounts of many untold stories of gender-based violence (GBV) in Tanzania. In most local settings, GBV has become a huge problem especially to women as they are the ones who bear the brunt.
The 2015–16 Tanzanian Demographic and Health Survey Report’s data on gender-based violence shows that 44 percent of women age 15–49 have experienced either physical or sexual violence. Of these, 27 per cent have experienced physical violence only, while 4 percent of women experienced only sexual violence. 13 per cent of women experienced both physical and sexual violence.
A very recently reported incident that shocked the entire nation of a woman allegedly burn to death by her spouse is evidently a vivid example of how women have been suffering from gender-based violence. Naomi Marijani, who was recently allegedly killed and burnt to ashes, did not have time to run. On her side, Shukuru was so lucky to be courageous enough to break the captivity chains of an abusive marriage atmosphere and run away.
“I keep asking myself many questions without getting an answer. For how long shall women continue to tolerate gender-based violence? Do their parents, relatives and the society feel the same pain as the victims do? How long shall women continue to tolerate GBV in order to protect the welfare of their children in the family?
Myoma Kapya, who leads Blood of Jesus Ministry has this to say, “I think married women haven’t been told that if men abuse them they should stand up and loudly speak against the acts. I urge women who experience any form of abuse to look for someone to run to for help. Women should not forget that it is better to run to a nearby neighbour than a relative faraway when disaster strikes you,” she says.
Vicent Mpepo, a lecturer the Open University of Tanzania, says a change of mindset is vital in addressing gender-based violence in our families. Women have been the most victims of gender-based violence. In this case, he feels that men should think of the consequences of their actions before they commit such violent acts.
“Such kind of a relationship in which one partner abuses the other should not be tolerated. Whenever one partner finds some harassments of any kind he/she should think twice,” he says.
On the other hand, he says, due to the fact that human beings are unpredictable creatures, both men and women should be aware of the kind of partners they choose.
For Mercy-Grace Seuya, an advocate, women should not see violence or harassment, whether in marriage, family or at workplace, as a normal way of life. According to her, abusers usually start with little things and small incidents like smacking, insulting, grabbing, holding roughly, pushing, and it later escalates to a higher level of violence that might cause harm, lead to total physical disability or even death.
“It normally starts at a lower tone. Many women suffer in silence. They just persevere. They don’t speak up especially when the abuser is a husband, father or someone close to them because they feel ashamed to expose them. It is important for women to immediately report it to the relevant authorities whenever abuse or violence acts are committed against them,” she urges.
Ms Seuya urges women to start teaching bride-to-be the importance of standing up against abuses of all forms. “Most women are taught by their fellow women in kitchen parties that they should not speak ill of their family issues to outsiders. I think this is what tends to let such violent abuse against them get so far,” she argues.
She argues that it’s a bad customary behaviour for women to think that it is their fault that they are getting beaten by their husbands. “They either don’t know or forget that no one has the right to beat, harass or abuse the other no matter what mistakes they have committed. What women tend to forgot if that an abuser will always want to put the blame on the victim over his actions. Women should not stay silent,” she says.
A random interview by Woman Magazine reveals that most of women fail to make their own decisions when they face abuse and violence in their relationship or marriage due to poverty, the attitude from the society and misconception about the marriage bond.
Some women say, the fear they have that the society will judge them is stronger to the extent that they decide to stay in and keep quiet despite experiencing difficulty in their marriage life.
When asked why they are still embracing the relationship or marriage in which they experience abuse and violence.
A Clinical Psychologist, Henry Rubagumya, says culture greatly contributes to the development of our beliefs and values.
Culture affects one’s personality directly as one wants to act, behave in ways that are seen appropriate to a particular culture.
“How can you leave your marriage, because your husband beats or disciplines you? Your mother would have divorced 6 men if she reported such same scenario to us. It’s a man’s right to check up on you if you don’t behave accordingly. We have all gone through such times and phases that bring an echo in bride’s ears if she goes to report any abuse she is experiencing in the marriage,” says Dr Rubagumya.
According to him, all these attempts and efforts to adhere to certain ways of life whereby women tend to adopt a “culture of silence” so that they don’t offend elders or being seen different from their other peers, are what perpetrates gender-based violence. “In most African cultural settings, beliefs and values are never questioned. They are almost dogmatic and that has a huge impact in one’s psychology,” he says.
Dr Dubagumya says womenshould seek for legal help when situation gets tougher and not to run to religious leaders as most of them will tell them to be patient while asking God to change the behaviour of their husbands.
Rose Kasoga, a Dar es Salaam based counsellor, offers a word of advice to women. She says it would be better for a wife to depart from an abusive husband if she feels that their relationship or marriage doesn’t work instead of sitting back and wait for the worse to happen.
“Women are the ones who suffer the most. This message should go to all women out there. If your husband harasses or abuses you, the best way to do is to leave him,” she appeals.
A development stakeholder, Martin Mandalu, says any kind of relationship requires thorough preparations.
“Getting into a serious relationship unprepared might result into such unfortunate happenings,” says Mr Mandalu.
Marcela Francis Lungu, a counsellor from E-Counselling, says most of gender-based violence especially against women occurs not because of the loss of love by the husband. There could be other factors such as insecurity and traumatic background experiences that might lead to one to behave in a violent manner.
However, she says, despite of any reason, violence is not an excusable act. “It’s high time the society speaks against GBV and women should not tolerate staying in abusive relationships,” she says.