Involvement of CSOs in abandoning harmful cultural practices in Tanzania
Tanzania is a country that is extremely rich in traditions and culture, well known to treasure its heritage and pride in cultural practices. Tanzania is a harmonious culture that’s mostly based on a subtle but strong social code of respect and courtesy. The official language in Tanzania is Swahili, although many people speak English. Tanzanian people are known to be extremely friendly and polite.
However, there is a growing awareness in Tanzania of the harm which certain cultural practices have on children, adolescents and women. This awareness is reflected in the emergence of NGOs and CSOs formed to campaign for the abolition of cultural practices that harm women and children.
Organizations that easily come to mind in spearheading these initiatives are TAMWA, WAMA, AFRICAN UPENDO GROUP, TAWA and TUNAWEZA WOMEN GROUP which address violence against women. TGNT and SWAAT combat gender discrimination and women's cultural vulnerability to HIV/AIDS respectively. KULEANA which is tackling corporal punishment for children and TANZANIA ALBINO SOCIETY which advocates against Albino killings -- the list goes on!
Many tribes in Tanzania practice widow inheritance where by widowers may “marry” a sister of their deceased wife-ostensibly to take care of her sister’s children who are also regarded as her own children as well. While there may be no negotiations or free choice on the part of the sister who is to wed her brother in law, quite often the alternative to being inherited is destitution, which, as you can imagine can be hazardous for the woman. There are also many health risks, as her husband may have been infected with HIV, or other STDs in which case she may also be infected.
Another known harmful cultural practice in Tanzania is Female Genital Mutilation. A few regions in Tanzania conduct FGM for the express reason that it controls female sexuality and therefore reduces chances of promiscuity. FGM is a big reproductive health risk for women, it interferes with a woman's ability to enjoy sex, and worse, the woman may end up with fistula during childbirth as FGM scars may tear away, resulting in a massive hemorrhage which may also be fatal. In Tanzania, FGM is practiced by ten or more ethnic groups out of the country, with more than 130 ethnic groups, hence even campaigns to stop such practices are often seen by those who practice them as ethnocentric and insensitive to their cherished values and norms by outsiders.
In the past 5 years there has been an increase of Albino Killings in Tanzania. The killings are associated with illogical thinking, like witchcraft, seeking wealth quickly, politics, racism etc. The eradication of such killings has been a very difficult and complicated process. The absence of witchcraft law does not help the situation at all, and lack of government readiness in increasing awareness on racism in our culture also contributes greatly in these killings. However, in recent years, efforts have been seen on implement such laws, and Tanzanians have shown a need to move quickly on this law to protect all albinos and give them their basic right to live freely amongst society.
Early marriage. Girls are still traditionally discriminated against, and some as young as 11 years are withdrawn from school to be married off. There is an increase of girls who drop out of primary school because some are raised in the belief that they should be married at a very young age to elevate their families from poverty and have a good life for themselves. This leads to early pregnancies causing a list of health issues for young girls. This is also not good for the development of our country because instead of educating women so they can educate their families and be leaders in the development of the country we subject them to bear children too early depriving our country of well educated powerful women in key decision making roles in our society.
Sexual harassment can also be a problem caused by harmful cultural practices in communities. In some communities in Tanzania women are viewed as objects, and its not uncommon for them to be subjected to different kinds of sexual harassment whether it be verbal or physical abuse. NGOs like the one we mentioned above, now work on letting women know about their rights and create awareness within the community about the affects of sexual harassment, and also educating society on what sexual harassment is.
Harmful cultural practices also contribute in Attendance of Men to Clinic. Most cultures in Tanzania don’t encourage men to visit a clinic for sexual health, as it is seen as a big taboo. The fact that clinics are dominated by female staff and patients doesn't help men feel secure enough to attend a clinic. Our culture also does not encourage men to attend clinics with their spouse for the same reason, fear of appearing weak and the general cultural understanding.
Surprisingly, hundreds of elderly women are killed every year, not because they have been legally convicted of performing witchcraft acts, but because some traditional healer has instigated the execution by convincing communities that elderly women with red eyes are all witches. Most of the elderly women with red eyes are killed mainly around Lake Zone, people fail to understand that women with red eyes are the victims of indoor pollution; they cook daily on wood stoves and inhales amounts of poisonous gas. Due to scarcity of fuel wood, sometimes cow dung is used as an alternative to firewood. Use of low quality biomass fuels like cow dung causes indoor pollution which is a hazard reflected in eyes turning red.
There are many harmful cultural practices in Tanzania that threaten the development of our society. With the help of various NGOs, society is now being educated on the affect of some cultural practices on the growth of our country and many of these practices have seized to exist in some communities due to these efforts. We congratulate all NGOs that have spearheaded these initiatives and encourage others to follow their example.