Widow inheritance and cleansing practiced widely in Tanzania

By Stella Peter and Martha Malyi

Most women in Tanzania are subject to gender based violence whether they are aware of it or not. The situation has become a major problem in the country as a majority of women have had their rights violated, which has caused them to suffer physically and psychologically.

Ms. Neema Ellison, who has been married for 12 years, said “I have been with my man since he got married to me, he never listens to me and wait for what I need to say to him. He always beats me up and I could never do anything for that simply because he is my husband and I never knew that my rights as women were being violated.”

Neema added that her husband doesn’t allow her to have job, because he wants her to stay at home and take care of the children. When she tried to educate him on this issue, her husband beat her brutally and told her that she is just a woman and he is the head of the family, so she has to listen to him on what he says and wants.

In various societies women have been discriminated by men and others. They don’t have the right to own property and they are often regarded as simply a tool for enjoyment.

Isabella Tarimo, an entrepreneur from Dar es Salaam, said “most men, they just take women for granted and regard them as weak since they cannot react to them and so they take that opportunity to torture them and violate their rights.”

According to the Tanzania Legal and Human Rights Centre 2012 Report, some of the tribes in the country have been practicing widow inheritance and cleansing. This act involves the widow to be taken or inherited by one of the husbands relatives, typically a brother or younger brother of the deceased husband. There are also those who are forced to undergo a sexual act with one of the husband’s relatives on account that they have to be cleansed or purified. The practice of widow cleansing is common in Makete District in Njombe region as well it is prevalent in the Lake Zone regions.

“The practice of widow inheritance and cleansing puts women at risk of acquiring HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. The Legal Human Rights Centre considers widow inheritance and cleansing as some of the effects of the Law of the Marriage Act due to its silence on bride price. The LHRC suggests that there ought to be some amendments of the Law of the Marriage Act to safeguard personal liberties of widows in the country.

John Stewart, who lives in Dar es Salaam, said that women in Tanzania need more education concerning their rights and that they have to know their rights as women, and know everything that surrounds them, so they know how to stand on their own instead of relying on men so as to avoid the problems which violate their rights as women.

Martha is interested in writing on human rights, particularly the rights of women. Her goal for the future is to create awareness on violence against women, and make their rights known in developing countries, like Tanzania, where it is an ever-growing problem.

Stella is a student of Mass Communication with a certificate in Journalism and Media Studies. Stella is passionate about the rights of women and children, and her goal is to focus on these rights in her career as a journalist.


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