Superstition, a threat to women’s rights

By Maria John Mtambalike

Many women in Tanzania fail to demand their human rights in fear of superstition and witchcraft. Most of these women are widows who are alienated and exploited by their deceased husbands’ relatives, which forces them to live very difficult lives.

Imelda Msinje is among those who have encountered problems regarding property ownership with their husbands relatives after his death. She said that she would not report this anywhere because she fears that she will be ‘witched’ by her in-laws. During the funeral ceremony of her husband, those relatives blamed her as the one who killed him in order to inherit his properties and forced her to leave the house before her husband was buried.

Imelda has three children who are under 18 years of age and depend on her, but these relatives don’t care and took all her resources away from her, forcing her to leave the house and everything with it including farmers, cars and their small industry. They say that she came without anything and that she should go without anything.

Veronica Msinje, the sister of victim, said “I advised my younger sister to leave the property and come to live in my house together with her children because I fear these people might witch my young sister.” She knows human rights and all procedures that are to be taken to have them recognized, but still fears being witched.

Article 24 of the Tanzanian Constitution states that every person is entitled to own property, and has a right to the protection of his property held in accordance with the law. This right is guaranteed by several other international instruments such as The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)  which requires member states to respect and promote the right to own property by creating an environment that allows people to freely enjoy their properties and guarantees their protection.

A large number of widows in Tanzania do not enjoy the use of their properties which are obtained from their struggles due to superstition beliefs which violates them of their rights. Relatives use superstition as an opportunity to exploit them and force them to leave the house and all properties, so that they can obtain them instead.

“Superstition beliefs do not have power over human rights or laws, it is time for widows who experience challenges to fight for their rights. Human rights Centres are spread amongst nearly every region of Tanzania and provide different educational material and council concerning human rights and help those who experience challenges,” said a human rights defendant.

Maria is a student of Mass Communication at St. Augustine University of Tanzania, as well as a volunteer news presenter at Radio SAUT, the university’s on-campus student-run radio station. Maria’s dream is to become a journalist who focuses on human rights issues, especially those of women and children.

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