Women's Rights in TanzaniaAccusations of witchcraft are not just a thing of the past: in Tanzania, older women are frequently attacked and accused due to this label. For example, an 80-year-old woman named Mirondo describes how a group of men entered her hut in the middle of the night, blindfolded her, bound her and beat her. They destroyed her crops and burned down her home. They even said, “we have shown you mercy and are not killing you today, but you have 24 hours to leave the village or else we will come back and kill you.” Despite its horror, this type of story is not uncommon. Accusations of witchcraft continue to threaten women’s rights in Tanzania.

History of Witchcraft in Tanzania

Any Tanzanian woman can be subject to witchcraft accusations. Marginalized groups including the elderly, ill or albino are especially in danger. These persecutions can occur for a variety of reasons including poverty, age, infection with diseases like HIV and land disputes. Women are sent threatening letters, attacked and even killed. An estimated one thousand women are killed in Tanzania annually. However, this statistic is likely higher, as these crimes are often unreported. These witchcraft accusations represent a clear violation of women’s rights in Tanzania.

Witchcraft has a long history in East African countries. The practice began centuries ago as a way to understand natural disasters, infertility and death. Although laws remain in place banning witchcraft, approximately 93% of Tanzanians still believe in its existence according to a 2012 Pew Research Center report. Furthermore, 60% use witch doctors for healing purposes. These witch doctors, though, are some of the most common accusers of witchcraft. Clearly, the belief in witchcraft is deeply ingrained in society. A report by the University of Dar es Salaam even stated that it is too strong to be eliminated through the law. These researchers propose a different solution: mass scientific education.

Working with Communities to Change Attitudes

The organization HelpAge is embracing the idea of using education to reduce witchcraft accusations. Teamed with local partners, this nonprofit trains members of over 90 villages to protect and support women’s rights in Tanzania. Their community programs include women’s rights training, HIV education, paralegal training, and exposure to traditional drama, music and dance.

In terms of paralegal training, community members learn to provide legal support and advice for disputes like inheritance, land and marriage rights. Paralegals also help women draft wills to protect their assets. These education and training programs take a community approach to promoting women’s rights in Tanzania.

Improving Conditions for Affected Women

HelpAge also builds houses and improves sanitation for women who were threatened, attacked, or isolated due to witchcraft accusations. The very design of these facilities keeps the organization’s mission of eradicating witchcraft persecutions in mind. For instance, houses come with fuel-efficient stoves to show that red eyesbelieved to be a sign of witchcraftare simply a result of cooking over smoky fires.

What Next?

HelpAge has already made a significant impact on improving women’s rights in Tanzania. The areas that have implemented projects have seen a 99% reduction in the killing of older women. However, improvement can still be made. The organization believes the national government must change its policies to hold people accountable for witchcraft attacks. HelpAge also advocates modification of inheritance laws so widow’s property cannot be seized. While it is undoubtedly difficult to change the beliefs deeply ingrained in communities, this mindset shift is critical to protecting the livelihoods of thousands. Accusations of witchcraft are a very real threat to women’s rights in Tanzania, but there is hope for a future of safety.

– Fiona Price
Photo: Flickr

Tanzania is a well-known country in Africa with a slowly progressing economy that’s the result of gold production and tourism. Although the nation is working towards a reputable economy, Tanzania still remains one of the most impoverished countries in Africa. Human rights are an important factor to consider for improvement, and the people of Tanzania are looking for a positive change of laws and regulations to assist with poverty evolution. The critical facts about human rights in Tanzania are as followed.

10 Facts About Human Rights In Tanzania

  1. In Tanzania, the current legal marriage age is 18 for both boys and girls. The original law in 1971 granted marriage for boys at 18 and girls at 14 years old. As of July 2016, this law was revoked, and the constitutional court ruled all marriage would be illegal to everyone under the age of 18. According to the UNICEF, Tanzania has one of the highest child marriage rates, leaving 31 percent of children married by 18 years old.
  2. Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right of freedom and expression.” Although this law essentially means freedom of speech, the Tanzanian government uses the law to limit freedom of expression if one’s freedom conflicts with other human rights. An example would be the protection of the rights or reputations of others. Although freedom of speech and freedom of media can go hand-in-hand, the constitution of Tanzania does not specifically approve of freedom of the press. There are current laws in place that allow authorities broad permission to limit and control media. This is due to the media’s role in politics — withholding advertisement contracts from censorious sources.
  3. Female and male rights for the citizens of Tanzania haven’t always been equal, and that trend continues to today. Until 2014, a woman’s right to land ownership was denied even though Tanzania’s Land Act and Village Land Act, passed in 1999, provided women rights to the ownership of land. Due to traditional practices, people still left land control in the hands of men, but the current law is working to uphold equal rights.
  4. In 2016, the Tanzanian government terminated all tuition fees for primary and secondary schools. This change helped boost the secondary school enrollment but has been a hurdle for poor children that don’t live near schools or cannot afford school supplies and costs.
  5. Many girls in Tanzania under the age of 18 face discrimination in school. If a student is pregnant or married, school officials can expel the girls from school without question. As of May 2018, a new law allows for girls to return to school post-pregnancy.
  6. Women’s rights to land help in the efforts to tackle poverty issues in Tanzania. Women and children often deal with generational poverty, malnutrition and women’s economic empowerment. The improvement of these issues begins with increasing the rights of women to own land.
  7. For many women in Tanzania, it is becoming the norm for wills to be written to children and next of kin for land. Women don’t want their offspring to suffer from poverty, so being in the position to pass down ownership is a means for ending the cycle of poverty.
  8. In 2017, the president of Tanzania, President Magufuli provided for 240,000 refugees that came in from Burundi, Africa in April of 2015. As of 2018, President Magufuli ordered that the Burundian refugees’ registration of naturalization be suspended. This left the refugees to either live in poverty or return to Burundi.

Development Opportunities

The updated human rights in Tanzania have made a positive impact on the country and its citizens. There is more work to be done, but with limited control and freedom of speech and activism, the government will continue to call the shots and the world hopes those decisions will be beneficial to the nation’s people.

– Kayla Sellers
Photo: Flickr