16 Days of Activism to end Gender Based Violence, November

16 Days of Activism to end Gender Based Violence, November

Domestic Violence is a pattern of coercive behavior which can include physical, sexual, economic, emotional and/or psychological abuse exerted by one family member over another with the goal of establishing and maintaining power and control.

It is a fact that as many as 4 out of ten women have experienced spousal violence by being beaten; pushed; shoved; slapped; kicked; insulted; threatened; or thrown out of homes, by the men they live with.

Research has revealed that in a period of one year between January and December, 1994, at least 164 (known) women had been killed by their husbands; boyfriends; or close family members.

Two thirds of those women were killed by their husbands after being beaten; strangulated; knifed; or burnt. Only 25 percent of the killers were hanged. The rest got mild prison sentences.

The web of violence is so wide spread that society is not even aware that it is an aberration and has come to accept it as the norm.

The legislation on domestic violence/spousal abuse is rather vague.

The Law of Marriage Act 1971 stipulates that “It is hereby declared unlawful for a spouse to use physical violence against his/her spouse” (section 66), It is however not criminalized, being just a declaration.

The Tanzania Penal Code focuses on ‘grievous bodily harm’ not on ‘grievous bodily harm inflicted by a spouse/partner’.

Communities on the whole tend to trivialize Domestic Violence, and society is accepting of Domestic Violence, taking it ‘as part of life’.


There are various myths which surround the practice of spousal battery/abuse –

People who engage in partner/wife abuse do so because they are mentally ill. Some groups/social classes are more likely to experience partner/wife abuse than others.

Stress and poverty are the primary cause of violence between adult partners.

Fear of stigma and isolation makes women stay in abusive relationships. Women enjoy the attention from their spouses/ partners even if the attention is negative through violence.

Women in several tribes/ethnic groups enjoy getting battered e.g. the Kurya, the Gita, the Luo in the northern borders, the Nyakyusa etc.


 Women who are victims of partner abuse typically refuse to report the abuse and do not disclose the source of their distress or injury.

The fast and most effective way for women who are abused to end the violence is to leave their abusive partners.

Men/women who abuse their partners physically or emotionally do so because they want to exert power. They are often manipulative and using coercive behavior is their modus operandi.

Women stay in abusive relationships because they have no option.

Men who use violence to exert power and control

 They are men of all ages, races, religious and socio-economic backgrounds. They may hold white-collar or blue – collar jobs or be unemployed. To some extent, alcohol maybe a contributing factor, but the perpetrators may already have feelings of inadequacies and alcohol is just a prop they use to exert power and control through violence.

In short, there isn’t any ‘typical’ profile of men who use physical and/or verbal violence as a form of control there are however, some common behaviors.

*          Men who batter may deny having a problem and may minimize the effect their violence has on their partners.

*          Most men who resort to spousal battery/abuse are violent only with their partners.

*          Many show extreme jealousy and possessiveness which often causes them to isolate the victim from family or friends.

*          They refuse to take responsibility for their actions. They blame their loss of control on their partners, frustration, and stress or on the effect of alcohol.

*          They tend to hold rigid, traditional views of sex roles and parenting and a negative attitude towards women.

*          They may have grown up in homes where they or a sibling were physically abused, or where the mother was abused by the father.

*          They have a low tolerance of stress.

*          They often make unrealistic demands of their partners.

*          Some may appear depressed or even threaten suicide.

*          To outsiders they may appear charming and caring, especially in their relationships outside of marriage but within the marital relationship they are controlling and manipulative.

*          They may experience feelings of inadequacy and sense of helplessness compounded by the possible threat of losing their partners.



Characteristics of the victim


Battered Women:

*          Focus attention on the abuser’s attempting to control their environment to stop or reduce the abuse

*          Deny, or tell lies to cover-up the abuse.

*          Protect their abusers.

*          Minimize the impact or seriousness of the abuse.

*          Avoid others or are forbidden to have contact with others.

*          Experience confused feelings of affection, fear, anger and connection to the abuser.

*          Some have been known to use/abuse alcohol.

*          Have low self-esteem, self-confidence and respect.

*          Have feelings of self-blame, guilt and shame.

*          Engage in irrational behavior.

*          Have numerous psychological ailments.

*          Are prone to domestic accidents like burning on stoves or cutting themselves with knives.

*          If they are employed, they miss work to hide the bruises, often lose their jobs or stop working voluntarily.

*          Experience sleeping problems.

*          Continue to experience violence even after reporting to relatives/friends about the abuse.


The effects of spousal battery/abuse on the victim

*          Guilt

*          Shame

*          Self loathing

*          Feelings of being worthless

*          Isolation and/or withdrawal from others

*          Depression

*          Health problems.


Effects of Domestic Violence on Children

*          Developmental problems

*          Psychosomatic symptoms

*          Boys behave aggressively, may grow up to become abusers.

  • Girls withdraw, may grow up to be abused by their partners/spouses

*          School – related problems.


Why women stay

*          Fear

  • Of increased violence
  • Of harm to her, her children, family or friends
  • Of losing children
  • Of not being believed
  • Of being blamed, that it is her fault.


*          Lack of financial resources

  • Housing
  • Food
  • Clothing
  • Lack of job skills/education

*          Lack of information

  • On the legal process
  • On support groups/centers
  • On steps to take once violence has taken place.

Underlying all these factors is the fact that most women believe “He will change”

Culture, tradition and prejudice

*          Women fear social stigma and isolation that would ensue if they were to take legal action against the violence. Families have been known to close rank against a battered woman who took legal action, quite often, these have included members of her own family.

*          Many Tanzanian families are extended with the offender often being the main bread winner. If he got imprisoned, the network of support would crumble, therefore, family members stop a woman from taking legal action and she often bows down to pressure rather than face possible ostracisation from her community thus, most women remain silent and endure the abuse.

*          Most people in Tanzania would be reluctant to give evidence in a case of domestic violence. This is due to cultural values which view woman as the property of her husband and which advocates the chastisement of women, often through physical force.

*          Society is party to the violence perpetrated against women by refusing to give support and by refusing to give evidence when called upon.

*          Women feel it is their fault that they must have asked for it! They explain the injuries they sustained during an attack that they fell down or they bumped against the door or furniture.


May      “He took hold of my hair, and banged my head against the kitchen sink after I complained about his behaviour towards the house maid – he touches her breasts when she passes near him”

Sauda    “My mother in-law told my husband he should stop me from working at the office and when I refused, he hit me and threw me out of the house”.

Rose      “He changed, became withdrawn and sullen. I thought it has to do with money problems, he then said I should move out, that he wants to bring in another wife when I shouted at him that we had the children to think of, he hit me”.

Zamda    “He does it (hit me) every other month, he says he has to keep me in check.


Checklist for Intervention

*          Debate on the nation’s lack of interest in implementing the spirit of CEDAW.

*          Legal literacy and human rights awareness should be raised on the issue of domestic violence.

*          The issue of HIV/AIDS in relation to domestic/marital rape should be brought into focus.

*          The issue of children living in abusive families/families which experience domestic violence should be brought into focus.

*          Breaking the silence on domestic violence.

*          Lobby for budget allocation on advocacy.


What should be done?

*          Law reform should incorporate spousal battery as a criminal offence in the Penal Code.

*          Establishment of more support groups at community level.

*          Establishment of support centers/shelters for battered women and their children.

*          Training and soft loan schemes for women in order to provide options to staying in abusive relationships

*          The faith based community and parish workers should provide care and support.

*          Establishment of gender desks in police stations.

*          More resources given to social welfare department.

*          Curricula in social welfare and police training colleges should include strategies to intervene in domestic violence.

*          Members of parliament should show concern.

*          Child welfare should be scaled up.

*          Women should report cases of violence against them, taking legal action against their abusers.

*          Society should be given skills on resolving family conflict through dialogue and reconciliation.

*          Manufacturers of alcoholic beverages should warn their customers that exceeding alcohol content can lead to injury for self and family. This message should be advertised on every bottle or can of an alcoholic beverage and on advertising material.

*          Government leaders should include the problem of domestic violence in their public addresses.

*          The media should include messages against domestic violence in their publications/productions.


Deaths occurring from domestic violence

Data obtained from the Ministry of Home Affairs show that from January 1996, to September 1998 a total of 1,595 deaths were recorded and sent to court for prosecution with women’s deaths accounting as per the following:

  • In 1996, 624 women were killed with domestic violence accounting for over 35 percent of the deaths.
  • In 1997, 560 women were killed with domestic violence accounting for 30 percent of the deaths.
  • In 1998, 146 women were killed as a result of domestic violence.

Sample of women murders from domestic violence

January to December, 1997


Region Number of women killed
Arusha 5
Dar Es Salaam 7
Dodoma 18
Iringa 13
Kagera 31
Kigoma 3
Kilimanjaro 4
Lindi 1
Mara 9
Mbeya 4
Morogoro 5
Mtwara 4
Mwanza 18
Coast 2
Rukwa 5
Ruvuma 2
Shinyanga 9
Singida 11
Tabora 10
Tanga 3
   Total            164

 However, the data above presents just the tip if the iceberg.

Hundreds of cases of femicide go unreported!


In the SADC ADDENDUM for the Declaration on the prevention and eradication of violence against women and children it was reported that:-

  • Violence against women and children continues to be endemic in all countries of the region despite a number of legislative, administrative and judicial, and other measures to prevent and to eradicate it.
  • Violence against women and children occurs within the Home, in the community and at the workplace. It takes various forms which include physical, emotional, psychological and economic violence within the family, sexual harassment and assault, child sexual abuse, early marriages, genital mutilation and femicide, trafficking in women and children and harmful traditional practices. In countries where there are armed conflicts, more atrocious forms of conflict have emerged.

It is increasingly and widely recognized that violence is the pervasive violation of the fundamental human rights, of women and children yet it continues to be fostered and re-enforced by some aspects of statutory, customary and religious provisions, practices and attitudes on the rights and status of women. In all countries there are high levels of tolerance and acceptance of violence against women and children, especially within the families where it is assumed that men have the right to chastise and discipline their women and children.


Although the problem of violence within the family is coming out more and more for public scrutiny and attention, there still is a strong veil of silence…….

“Together We Can Make it Happen”

Leila Sheikh

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