This week, Tanzania hosted a regional workshop on ‘Violence Against Women’ for data experts from nine Eastern and Southern African countries. Organised by UN-Women, the four-day workshop was officially opened by the deputy minister for Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children, Dr Faustine Ndugulile, who is also an advocate for gender equality and women’s empowerment.
The workshop facilitated discussions on how to better measure violence against women and girls using standardised methods. Through funding from the Department for International Development of the United Kingdom (DfID), Irish Aid and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), Tanzania is implementing the Women Count Programme which is contributing to the generation of quality data that can inform policies to achieve gender equality. In view of the sensitive nature of gender-based violence, the experts have agreed that data collection methods should strictly adhere to ethical and safety standards to ensure that survivors are not put at risk of further violence. ‘The Citizen’ spoke to Dr Ndugulile on his views about violence against women in Tanzania, efforts in place to end the pandemic and the push-back factors.
QN: What was the significance of this regional workshop, looking at issues related to violence against women in Tanzania?
ANS: The workshop is significant for us here in Tanzania because it is facilitating discussions on how we can best measure gender-based violence.
It is a knowledge sharing exercise on how as a region can support each other and work together with global experts in a South-South and Triangular Cooperation approach to inform our laws, policies and national programmes through data and effectively prevent and respond to incidents of violence against women.
However, if you look at Tanzania, the workshop is very critical due to a rise in cases of violence against women.
We would like to continue supporting generation of quality data that can better inform us on the underlying factors fueling this pandemic.
That way can come up with effective interventions. Violence against women and girls is now like the new Malaria problem after we managed to make significant progress in our ongoing efforts to eliminate Malaria in Tanzania. The latest national statistics by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) show that 41,000 cases of violence were reported and out of those 13,000 were against children.
The Demographic Health Survey of 2015/16 show that spousal abuse, of both sexual and physical nature, are high at 44 per cent among married women than those in other categories.
When we look at Malaria, which was a major headache a decade ago, we have managed to halve the cases from 14 per cent to seven per cent in 2015/16.
Although Malaria related deaths have gone down, it is sad that we are now losing people, particularly women, as a result of gender-based violence.
As the government, we are taking this issue very seriously.
How are you demonstrating seriousness in ending violence against women?
We have quite a number of initiatives in place including the establishment of the National Plan of Action to end Violence against Women and Children (2017-2021).
This is a blue print bringing together multiple actors for an inclusive approach, in addition to ensuring that survivors have access to adequate social services.
One critical initiative we are implementing is the provision of free legal aid support to those who cannot afford such services.
The National Plan of Action has also facilitated the establishment of Women and Children Protection Committees at various levels, and so far, we have in place 10,000 committees working across the country.
We have also mainstreamed gender and children desks into police services, and we are trying to further integrate them in the education system.
We have realized that primary and secondary schools and institutions of higher learning provide a window of opportunity for the reporting of cases that happen at household level.
Many cases are swept under the carpet to avoid prosecution of a family member or are dealt with in a manner that further endangers the survivor or perpetuates the violence. Importantly, we would like teachers to receive training on how they can assist in handling cases of violence against children to put an end to this challenge.
On the other hand, the policy on free primary and secondary education in our public schools is also supporting our efforts because more girls are staying longer in school, which provides a better chance for economic independence, better decision making and a brighter future.
In addition, looking at how women and girls are mostly affected, as the Ministry we are taking the issue of women’s economic empowerment very seriously to ensure they are not forced to stay in abusive relationships due to their inability to fend for themselves.
You earlier indicated the importance of ensuring that ending violence against women becomes everyone’s business. How can Tanzania achieve this?
Through investing more in educational programmes we can transfer new knowledge and influence change of attitudes and behaviors; and through that process, ending violence will become everyone’s business.
I believe in the power of education and ensuring we implement the skills and new knowledge we acquire. We can introduce change at various levels starting in schools, which will require us to align our curriculums with issues on gender.
Ensuring early understanding of gender dynamics and and how violence against women and girls push back sustainable development is critical and should be introduced in primary schools up to institutions of higher learning.
Education can also be targeted at various groups of people, including influencers of change such as religious and traditional leaders.
For us its about developing and sharing messages that will influence creation of better communities, particularly rural communities.
As the Gender ministry, we continue holding sensitisation dialogues using various platforms in line with our commitments through the National Plan of Action.
We also understand that as we are living in a digital world, our initiatives should also take place within the digital space, through the use of various mediums suitable for each group. For the young people, we are using social media, in addition to edutainment (educational entertainment). Our inclusion of celebrities such as actors and musicians in our campaigns to end violence against women has so far shown that we are getting the attention of young people.
What seems to be the challenge, looking at all the work you are doing - and, yet: more and more women and girls continue to face violence?
I think we need to strengthen preventive efforts.
We should start introducing issues of gender at primary school level to ensure a gradual end of gender-based violence. We would like the next generations to better understand the negative influence of gender-based violence.
Currently, our significant interventions are more inclined to curative approaches; we are focusing on responding to cases that have already happened, and we are saying those cases should not even happen in the first place.
Importantly, we are working on changing the mindset for every person to understand that human rights apply to women and men.
As much as this change process is likely to take a long time, we should continue investing in the change we envision until we get it right. However, the reality is that as government, we cannot achieve this alone, we need support from development partners to respond effectively and sustainably across the country.
It is imperative that we conduct regular surveys on violence against women and put the results to good use at various levels.
The issue of human capacity is a critical issue, hence the importance of this ongoing collaborative effort through the regional workshop. I appeal to UN-Women, the Department for International Development of the United Kingdom and other donors with a deeper understanding of how ending violence against women and girls is so important for the achievement of gender equality and women’s empowerment, to provide more financial and technical support.