Addressing Patriarchy, Harmful Traditions, and Practices Affecting Women and Girls
16 November 2023
Maria Luhangija is a Sukuma woman born in Nyamikoma Village but lives in Nyasato Village Magu District Mwanza Region, where she is married.
Just like any other woman in her tribe, she suffers at the hands of oppressive traditional norms, values and cultural practices and beliefs in the Sukuma society.
Having been married to Malamsha Lubeja when she was less than 18 years old, the couple was blessed with seven children (6 female and 1 male who unfortunately died leaving six female children).
"My husband is a traditional healer. He has now moved to Bariadi where he has married another wife. He just comes here once in a while to check the farms and pick crops, especially during harvesting time. He abandoned the family and moved to Bariadi because I didn't have a male child. Likewise, when our children were growing up, we used to bath them in nsaba (a traditional medicine) so that they would find husbands with many cattle,” Nshoma said.
She added that her husband indicated that men from Magu District don't have cattle, so their daughters were to marry men from Bariadi who own a lot of cattle.
“The reason for bathing them with the traditional medicines was to make them attractive because he said the Nyantunzu (bariadi Sukuma) like light-skinned women and my children have dark skin. I was not happy with that act, but I had no way out as I had to obey what my husband said,” she added.
Continuing to narrate, Maria said,_ “One of our daughters qualified for secondary school enrolment, but her father refused, saying that she should get married to a certain man and agreed on a dowry of 13 cows. Unfortunately, the daughter was impregnated by a boy from a neighboring village, different from the one who had betrothed her for 13 cows._
When Maria informed her husband of the development, the tables turned on as she was assaulted before they (together with her daughters) were kicked out of their house because they had shamed the husband.
“I was really hurt because I wanted my daughter to study. That also made my husband leave the village completely because we shamed him and he lost the 13 cows in the process. He also told me that I do not have a son who will inherit his property and land, and also his divination will be lost because there is no heir. These challenges have even affected me psychologically,” she added.
However, Maria was one of the women invited to attend capacity-building training for stakeholders on oppressive traditions and customs for women and children through the Tufike Pamoja project, implemented by the Haki Zetu Tanzania in Magu District.
The main goal of this project, that is funded by Women Fund Tanzania Trust, is to increase awareness among Sukuma communities and the people of the Lake region on respecting good principles and cultures and protecting women and children against violence.
Speaking about the activities of the project, Boniphace Elias, the Project Officer said, “During implementation, we conducted training for stakeholders in Sukuma and Jinjimili wards to build their capacity to identify respect and develop good traditions that bring equality, remove barriers to development and protection for women and girls, and persuade them to abandon those oppressive traditions.”
He added that the training was attended by councilors, community development and social welfare officers, village officials, traditional elders, traditional midwives, representatives of women & girls’ groups, religious leaders, police officers, female health service providers, and primary and secondary education teachers.
“We also held discussions at community level on traditions and customs of the Sukuma community that contribute to violence, exacerbate inequality, and hinder women and girls' development in the areas of inheritance, education and marriage. We also organized football competitions for women and girls with the aim of raising the voice of the community to oppose oppressive systems that bring violence to women and girls, including traditions and customs and the patriarchal system,” explained Elias.
The implementation of these project activities has led to an increase in understanding among community members about good and bad traditions and customs to develop the good ones and remove the bad ones. This has contributed to the increase in reporting and exposing violence against women where community members advise how leaders can receive and deal with matters related to violence against women and girls such as interfering in marriages of children under 18 years of age.
Similarly, the project has helped to identify the presence of traditional leaders as drivers of cultural principles and positive education, thus establishing a procedure to take their information and review it in order to have a common understanding of good principles on violence against women and girls.
"Our children are going through a lot of challenges because of the desire for wealth, for example you find that a child gets married, the parents are given only four cows and then they send the child to suffer at a young age when she does not even know the meaning of marriage. After being given this education, we have now decided to say and act for our children," said Femia Anacletus
These efforts have led traditional elders and influential people to make a joint statement against sexual violence and support efforts to give education to the girl child.
Traditional elders have also promised to support women who will come forward to run for various leadership positions in the upcoming elections, also urging members of various political parties to consider female candidates in primary elections within their parties.
Various studies have revealed that there is great violence against women, girls, and children committed by the Sukuma community of more than 70%, as they have had the habit or practice of running bad rules and cultures to humiliate women and girls such as SAMBA", "kuwinga or kulyeja" (traditional practices.
The presence of rules and cultures that encourage sexual violence against women and children in Sukuma and Jinjimili wards in Magu district, has led to an increase in violent acts against women and children, for example; termination of education for girls and children, collapse of morals, early marriages, early pregnancies, increased HIV infection and poverty among women and girls.