Source: Tanzania Daily News
FROM independence in 1961, Tanzania has long served as a beacon of women's progress in East Africa. But when it comes to domestic violence the country's shining reputation is missing polish.

Resistance to confronting the problem of domestic violence is deeply rooted in Tanzanian culture as some people are afraid to see women gain autonomy; they fear it's going to break families. If lives of women are in danger, if they can't stay with their husbands anymore, those women need help to reconstruct themselves, to learn how to become autonomous.

About 50 per cent of Tanzanian women aged 15 to 64 have been the victim of violence (ranging from harassment to physical violence) at least once in their lifetime, according to recent surveys conducted by United Nations agencies. In most cases, the surveys indicate that the assaults occur in a domestic setting. The healing message is that to stop violence against women, men must come off the sidelines.

Men must turn to 'peace ambassadors' to redouble their efforts in addressing the domestic and sexual violence crisis plaguing society. In Tanzania, male ambassadors will be a key part in the strategy to encourage more men to work to prevent violence against women.

The vast majority of men must do the right thing, to speak up and speak out against the minority of men who perpetrate violence against women. As men wake up to the injustice that women face, they become enthusiastic about becoming involved.

The truth is all men need to recognise that violence against women --whether a domestic violence murder in Ikungulyabashashi village in Bariadi District, Simiyu Region, or a gang rape in the streets of Dar es Salaam -- is not a women's issue but a community issue.

It is high time for bystanders to leave the sidelines and take a stand so their sons won't have to ask, "Dad, what are you waiting for?" As more men question what it means to be a man, it's a good opportunity to also consider what they wish for their sons, grandsons and brothers.

Are we nearing the day when we define manhood by a man's capacity to be compassionate and nurturing as well as strong and decisive? While government, local and international agencies are mobilising men's active participation in ending violence against women, there is an urgent need for the country to set up shelters for victims of domestic violence.

We need several shelters in different areas where the rate of violence against women is higher. These shelters will be accompanied by prevention campaigns to raise public awareness and to change mentalities on what they stand for.

Until now, the only help for victims come from independent advocacy associations such as the Tanzania Media Women's Association and the Tanzania Women Lawyers Association and Legal and Human Rights Centre, which provide listening, orientation and free legal assistance, but no housing.

These women organisations only offer a temporary solution. At first they started hosting some victims in their own houses or putting them up in hostels when they were really threatened but it's too complicated. There is, therefore, the need for the government to take responsibility in that area.

As first strategy government can create a national centre so that Tanzania continues to be held as an ex ample of women's progress in the East African region. In neighbouring Uganda, the Action for Development, a non-governmental organisation, has trained local volunteers to be 'community agents of change' in 2012 in the northern part of the country to resolve conflicts and provide counselling.

These unpaid residents include clan leaders, women's group leaders, religious leaders and local councilmen. The 'community agents of change' cite gender-based violence as the primary issue affecting local families, a problem fuelled by extramarital affairs, alcoholism, rape, sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault and simple assault committed by a spouse, former spouse, boyfriends or girlfriend, and early marriage.

Programme leaders and local government officials say changing the culture of violence there remains a challenge but that the one-year programme raised hopes about bringing more peace to more households. In the selected area, the number of domestic violence cases is said to have decreased.

Action for Development aims to promote women's empowerment, gender equality and equity through advocacy, networking and capacity building of both women and men. The community agents of change are people respected in their communities, and their work is valued by the people," say the organisation's officials.

Gender-based violence occurs in all societies and across all social classes, and women are particularly at risk to suffer violence from men they know. Another cause of violence in homes is early marriages in the communities, where young women are unable to handle their children and husbands.

Let's fight the notion of the United States corporate media that gender, sexual, domestic violence are the problems of all those "backward" developing countries. The US media's failure to even acknowledge the existence of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women is a firm testament to, and continuation of, this racist, misogynist, neo-colonial (and yet age-oldcolonial) tradition.

It is always politicians, nation-states, and economies that free oppressed groups, not the oppressed groups themselves, through action, agitation, and organizing. Our government since independence has taken unprecedented steps to advance the status of women and girls.

In closing, I must state explicitly that patriarchy is an international phenomenon, and that violence against women is a global problem. Gender violence is happening right now in your home town. Your family, friends, neighbours might very well be participating in it. You might very well be participating in it. Recognise it. Stop it.

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