IN MY HUMBLE OPINION: Latent misogyny - A poison that runs through the veins of society

Monday March 23 2020

Maria Sarungi Tsehai is a communication and

Maria Sarungi Tsehai is a communication and media expert and founder of #ChangeTanzania 

By Maria Sarungi Tsehai

The definition of misogyny is short and clear: “hatred, dislike, or mistrust of women, or prejudice against women.” In light of recent events, I discovered that misogyny can be cloaked in a very insidious violent way!
On Friday, March 13, we received news that Chadema leaders and supporters were injured by guards at Segerea Prison, in Dar es Salaam when they went to get their chairperson, Freeman Mbowe, out of prison after paying a hefty Sh70 million fine. Among the leaders who were injured, were two Members of Parliament, Halima Mdee and Ester Bulaya. Both women were part of the eight Chadema leaders who were sentenced on March 10 and had to pay hefty fines for their release.  Citizens mobilized and donated toward their fines. Halima and Ester walked out of prison on March, 12 and others followed, and Mbowe was the last leader to walk free.
It is important to note that just the two days previously, Humphrey Polepole the spokesperson of the ruling party, CCM, had gone to Segerea twice to fetch prisoners who were sentenced in the same trial, with a convoy of vehicles and supporters and was allowed to enter the grounds of the Prison.
Yet, according to the Chadema leaders the same courtesy was not extended to them, instead they were beaten outside the gate. While the “he said, she said” continues, as the result of this incident four women were hospitalized. Members of Chadema who had driven to the prison on Friday to get their top leader had included Halima, Ester, Jesca Kishoa, a leader of the women’s wing of Chadema (Bawacha) and Agnesta Lambert, the spokesperson of Bawacha. All four were brutalized and three of them suffered serious injuries. Halima has a fractured arm; Ester has spinal injuries; while Jesca, a nursing mother with a five month old baby, has an injured back.
Even though Prison authorities claim that Chadema supporters were about to start a riot and that they used moderate force to restrain them, the results of these injuries prove the extreme violence that had been used.  
I believe that in a democratic country, that is a member of the United Nations and signatory to a number of international treaties and conventions, we have to demand the highest standards from our law enforcement officers.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issued the Human Rights Standards and Practice for the Police which I assume would apply to all law enforcement officials, including prison guards, says explicitly that in a Democracy: “The police have the duty to uphold the rights of and afford protection to all political parties, persons and organizations equally without fear or favour” Article 3 of the Code of Conduct of Law Enforcement officials adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly states clearly that “Law enforcement officials may use force only when strictly necessary and to the extent required for the performance of their duty”. In my view, even though Halima and Ester are elected MPs, misogyny overrode the usual respect shown to their male peers. This resulted in unprecedented violence. Just to be clear, Halima and Esther are among the very few politically accomplished women in Tanzania who have won elected constituency seats. In fact, Ester Bulaya won in the constituency of Bunda Urban in Mara region.
A region that has pitiable rating in terms of respect for women’s rights according to the Tanzania Demographic and Health Survey. Ester is also the Chief Whip of the Opposition in Parliament – for the first time in the history of the country. Halima Mdee has won twice her seat in Parliament in a very competitive constituency of Kawe, Dar es Salaam which is home to the powerful and affluent. She also heads the women’s wing of Chadema. Surely these women deserved at best the same, if not better, treatment from prison guards than the spokesperson of CCM.
Most of all the deafening silence from Parliament, from women’s rights organizations and from government leaders including Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan and the Minister of the Women’s portfolio, Ummy Mwalimu is tragic. It is sad to have watched this year’s Women’s Day celebration with diplomats ceremoniously pledging support for fight against gender based violence, then staying mute a week later where such violence was meted out on such well known public figures women. As a nation, in my opinion, we cannot allow nor can we afford to stay silent on human rights abuses, especially violence against women. Misogyny, when quietly tolerated, is a poison that runs in the veins of society, allowing gender based violence.
This is not politics, but purely a matter of humanity and respecting women. All who stay mute about this are complicit in institutionalizing misogyny in Tanzania.