Thursday, March 2, 2017

An NGO Calls for new role model to protect rights of women and girls



 “A new model should be adopted to protect women and girls from gender-based violence and other forms of discrimination in Tanzania,” said a legal expert, Jamal Omary during an interview “As a country, we need to change ways of dealing with rape, sodomy, battery…it seems national strategies have failed to stop these problems,” he noted. Expert suggestion comes against a backdrop of massive discrimination and human rights violations, targeting especially girls and women in urban and rural areas across the country. According to latest reports released by the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC), rape and sodomy cases have increased from 1,585 to 1,765 between last year and this year. Although the report indicates an increase in sodomy and rape cases of both male and female children, a comparative analysis shows that over 1,200,000 are reported to have been raped and sodomized during the period under review. “Figures could be higher as some victims do not report these cases to police stations,” local media quoted the LHRC Executive Director, Dr Helen Kijo-Bisimba, as saying, using statistics collected from police-gender desks countrywide. Recent independent studies indicate a drastic increase in the number of rape, torture and kidnapping cases of girls in Tanzania. Surveys conducted by the Tanzania Women’s Media Association (Tamwa) and a number of human rights organisations show that Zanzibar is notorious for rape cases that involve schoolgirls, early pregnancies and early marriages with most of the cases not reported to any law enforcement organs. “Let me tell you something; in Zanzibar raping a girl is considered as a normal practice. It is just part of the culture for coastal people…you can find such reports in many families and nobody takes the trouble to report them to police,” said one villager from Kimzikazi, South-Unguja Region. In an exclusive interview, NashonMsangi, a paralegal based in Kibaha said girls and women are often subjected to multiple forms of violence at domestic and national levels, noting that “long-time efforts by activists, human and women rights defenders, and government agencies have not managed to rectify the situation.” “Yet, perpetrators of these acts are still at large, police investigation and prosecution take years,” he said, adding that the police needed to do more to secure prosecute the culprits in a country where nearly one in three girls experience sexual abuse before the age of 18, according to the United Nations Children's Fund. Recently, local media quoted an official statement by Tamwa, calling on the government to do more as regards to timely prosecution. "If security organs and the responsible ministries take action against the perpetrators of such inhuman acts against children and women, the country will be a peaceful place to live in," notes Tamwa’s statement.
However, in all cases a new approach is needed to stop against gender-based and other types of violence against girls and women in the country. “You may believe me or not, but the fact is that legal and social protection of women and girls in the country has failed to produce expected results. We need to change,” said Fortunata Kitokesya, programme officer--in-charge of women affairs at the Legal Services Facility (LSF), a basket funding, which provides both financial and technical support to legal aid organisations involved in the provision of legal aid services in Tanzania. “Women and girls have suffered for many years and they will continue to suffer unless we change strategies,” she said. As an organisation, she says, LSF has come up with a different approach “legal empowerment” - a bottom-up model, which she believe could save millions of women and girls from escalating human rights violations. Legal empowerment entails enabling communities—local leaders, traditional and religious leaders, with the view to making them understand key concepts—women and girls’ rights to land/property ownership, inheritance, social services, lead a happy life, etc. With legal empowerment, according to the LSF official, community, local and family leaders are educated and sensitized to respect the rights of women and girls and fight against early pregnancies, early marriages, rape, battery etc. “After understanding these concepts, these leaders can easily tell their people to stop those backward practices. It’s hard to change people’s behaviour through statements or directives issued by national leaders,” she noted.  “We impart knowledge to leaders, who spread the same to their people. This is the best and effective way of ending gender-based violence against women and girls and ensure protection of their rights,” added Kitokesya. In 2014, LSF incorporated legal empowerment in the protection of women and girls’ rights in three pilot projects--Mvomero District, Morogoro, Dar es Salaam, and Siha, Kilimanjaro. In the process, the facility created a pool of change agents/makers, who go around educating their communities on the need to respect the rights of women and girls and stop discrimination against the vulnerable social groups. “Change of people’s altitudes and perceptions towards girls and women at the grassroots level, can change the entire country and this translates into changing the mind-set of national leaders, mind-set of government ministers…automatically change the mind-set of everybody, hence influence significant change in laws, policies that discriminate against women and girls,” said the LSF official, who doubles as in-charge of women affairs. LSF has duplicated the same model in its projects implemented in 158 districts across Tanzania—bringing together paralegals, community leaders in addressing women and girls issues, according to Kitokesya.

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