[Documents menu] Documents menu

Tanzanian Women In Dire Straits After Marriage

By Nicodemus Odhiambo, Panafrican News Agency, 20 January 2000

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania (PANA) - Wife beating in Tanzania is increasing every year and gender activists are worried the practice has reached a crisis point.

The trend in the past four years, according to the Tanzania Media Women Association, is on the increase from 45 cases reported in 1996 to 281 in 1998.

And in some instances, beatings can be so bad that it is not uncommon to come across cases where men have literally chopped off their spouse's private parts with machetes because of jealousy.

The association, a pressure group, said the current increase in reported cases is due to the government's campaign against this kind of violence.

Awareness campaigns on women battering are now paying dividends in Tanzania as more battered women openly report cases of abuse, the group's executive director, Leila Sheikh, added.

Husbands believe they possess a God-given right to punish their wives whenever they transgress against them.

But frustration could be the main cause.

Many men, who are sole bread winners, have suffered job redundancies since the government began its Western-guided austere cost-cutting measures.

Many have no jobs. Without skills and inadequate education, very few men can afford self-employment.

Parliament was told recently that at least 528 deaths occurred as a result of domestic violence in the past five years.

Among the grisly incidents, a total of 144 husbands were beaten to death by their wives following fierce brawls caused by excessive drinking and jealousy.

Likewise, 384 women were killed by irate husbands within the same period.

Some people have argued that wives continue to be beaten by their husbands because the marriage laws are weak.

Nevertheless, most cases involving violence against women go unreported.

Wife beating has been found to be most prevalent in six regions - Mara, Shinyanga, Mwanza, Kilimanjaro, Zanzibar and Arusha.

In Mara, out of 238 people interviewed, 90.7 percent said wife beating was rampant. Some 84.7 percent of the male respondents unashamedly affirmed that they had at one point or another battered their wives.

One woman told of how her husband tied her to a tree for five days, clobbering her every day only to be saved by Good Samaritans.

Women also tell of how their husbands forcefully take in their sisters as second wives. Those who protest this are beaten.

Men from the region also believe beating a woman is a sign of real love for her.

But in Shinyanga, wife beating is said to be motivated by alcohol.

In Arusha, 99 percent of married women bear scars, testimony to the heavy beating borne from their husbands. In the region alone, 3,242 cases have been recorded in the past five years.

In the neighbouring region of Kilimanjaro, 293 women died as a result of domestic brawls, of which 187 among them committed suicide out of frustration within the same period. The rest died as a result of being severely clobbered by jealousy men.

Regional authorities say most cases go unreported because the battered women fear being jilted.

Those who go to the hospital for treatment fake the origins of their injuries, falsely blaming muggers and robbers as the culprits.

This problem is very common here. Women are badly beaten by their husbands. Those who are caught with partners outside of marriage have their private parts slashed as punishment and as a way of reducing prostitution, Serengeti District Commissioner Laban Makunenge said.

One victim, Immaculate Joseph, said that she was fearful of going to the police to report a beating by her husband because things would get worse.

I was badly battered by my husband three months ago. I cannot report it to the police because he will chase me out of the house, she added.

Mukenenge said that early marriages are very common in the district with girls going into wedlock as early as 15.

A 15-year-old girl can get married off to a 70-year-old man without her consent, he said, adding that they are forced out of school due to this.

Female genital mutilation is also common in Serengeti district although it is done in high secrecy in fear of the new sexual offences act recently enacted by parliament to stop the practice.