Four years ago, a team of U.S. volunteers from Empower Tanzania met with eight women from the town of Maore in Same District in northeastern Tanzania. The women were all victims of gender-based violence (GBV). We had asked their pastor to bring them to a meeting so we could learn more about this issue in Tanzania. The women knew each other but did not know each had been a victim of violence. Traditional culture and shame had kept this a secret.
Empower Tanzania (ETI) is a non-governmental organization committed to improving the lives of the people of Tanzania through health, education, and development programs, and, in particular, focuses on empowering women through its programs. A major obstacle to empowerment of women is their traditional role in Tanzania and their vulnerability to domestic violence. This meeting was the initial effort to understand the problem before developing programs that would help.
The women knew each other but did not know each had been a victim of violence.
The eight women were reluctant to discuss how they had been abused until one of the ETI volunteers said that this sort of violence was also a big problem in the U.S. This shocked the women and they began to describe how they had been beaten. One woman shared how as a widow, her husband’s family took her land and tried to take her children. Two women shared that their husbands had tried to murder them and the police refused to act.
The ETI volunteers were stunned as the women continued to talk and became more and more comfortable. “We feel better just talking about this,” one of them said. “We should do this more often.” The pastor said they could meet as a group at the church and call it “Bible Study.” One of the ETI volunteers said, “You have just created what we call a support group.”
Six months later, ETI hired Nardi Macha as program manager, sent her for training in counseling, and established 10 support groups each serving 10 women across the district. The women quickly described themselves as “survivors” rather than victims, a sign of their solidarity and refusal to continue in this subservient role. Nardi met with each group at least twice per month and provided group and individual counseling. In some especially terrible situations, she and the survivor went to the police and demanded action.
The women quickly described themselves as “survivors” rather than victims.
In a male-dominated culture, this took tremendous courage, Nardi was determined and the police developed a grudging respect for her. Sometimes the police arrested the husband, especially if drunkenness was involved. At times, Lutheran pastor Nahana Mjema, a woman with graduate degrees in counseling, joined Nardi and the survivor in seeking action from the police. Nardi’s and Nahana’s reputation as strong advocates gave hope to the 100 women in the support groups and notified the communities that they were not afraid to confront abusive men and demand action by the police.