low legal literacy rates affect women’s rights in Tanzania

By Abraham Ntambara

In Tanzania, the legal and human rights of women are constrained by inadequate legal literacy levels of comprehension amongst women. The main reason being that the existing legal system does not reach the majority of women who live in rural areas. As a result women are unaware as to how they can report on issues that violate their rights, or which rights are even being violated. 

According to a 2005 World Health Organization survey, 41 percent of ever partnered women in Dar es Salaam have experienced physical and sexual violence at the hands of their partners.

Due to this situation women are subjected to all forms of violence, an issue that until recently was rarely discussed openly. According to the same report, a survey conducted in three districts of Dar es Salaam found that six out of 10 women have experienced violence in the form of threats, battery, insulting language, pushing and/or shoving from their partners.

The following interviews were conducted with different residents of Dar es Salaam in order to gauge how illiteracy impacts and contributes to the ongoing violation of women’s rights in Tanzania.

Rashid Ally (45), a resident of Mwenge said that “illiteracy of women’s legal and human rights amongst women is a problem as it allows traditional practices like crimes of assault, battery and discrimination at the workplace, which for generations have been so deeply entrenched in our cultural ethos. This acceptance of oppressive practices as part of our cultural heritage has contributed largely to the violation of women’s rights and as such these practices continue to be accepted as an integral part of our lives.”

In response to the problem, Mr. Rashid suggested that not only women, but the whole of the community educate themselves so as to recognize their rights and to know which steps to follow in reporting violations and seeking legal aid if and when their rights are violated, regardless of cultural practices which are against those rights.

Magreth Simbeye (34), a resident of Makongo Juu, agreed, “it’s true that most women face the problem of legal illiteracy and lack of comprehension and awareness of the law.” Magreth continued, “it is difficult for women to take action like reporting a particular oppressor for further legal action to prosecutors, in this case to save women from oppressors there is a need for people dealing with the issue of human rights to take responsibility to make women aware of their rights and the laws that protect them from inhumane violence.”

According to Ms. Anna Boniphace (23), a resident of Ubungo, women who are raped or sexually harassed who have the courage to try and press charges believe that the law would not only protect them but bring their perpetrators to justice. She continued to say that women who do this become disappointed when they realized instead of being treated as victims, their private lives are stripped bare and the roles become reversed, the criminals become the victims.

While most aspects of the law look good on paper, societal trends of victim-blaming prevent women from pursuing legal council effectively. Moreover, magistrates, prosecutors, defence counsellors and court clerks are all part of the process of society and to a great extend, tend to have a biased opinion against women themselves.

To address this situation, the government alongside NGO’s must commit themselves to improving women’s legal capacity through legal literacy schemes and mass campaigns to educate both women and men on women’s human rights. The objective is to enhance the status of women through knowledge of their legal and human rights.

Abraham is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communication at St. Augustine University of Tanzania. He believes in helping the voiceless people in society.


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