In Summary
  • The right to and access to adequate reproductive health will not only increase the quality of life, but also preserve human dignity

Dar es Salaam. Inadequate reproductive health laws, regulations and policies are a problem to any country, but if they are well stated and put in practice, there will be transformation in health leading to national development.

That was one of the agenda items during a two-day workshop on the right to reproductive health and gender-based violence that involved Members of the Parliament and lawyers from the Tanzania Women Lawyers Association (Tawla).

The workshop, that gathered members of the Parliamentary Committee on Community Development, Gender and Children aimed at discussing gaps in the implementation of various reproductive health laws.

Focusing on gender-based violence and the right to reproductive health Tanzania is facing some serious legal challenges that if not well addressed, more and more women will continue to experience gender-based violence and poor access to reproductive health.

Gender-based violence

For many years gender-based violence has been a topic of discussion by many human rights activists both locally and internationally. Women are the main victims of gender-based violence. According to the 2010 demographic health survey, 44 per cent of married women aged 15-49 years experienced physical violence by an intimate partner. Of this 44 per cent, 39 per cent have experienced physical violence.

Presenting a topic on gender-based violence, a lawyer, Ms Asina Omari said past researches indicated that one in every three females experienced sexual violence before attained the age of 18. She, however, noted that males were also  victims, but only few cases had been reported with one in every seven males experiencing the same.

She said Tanzania had put in place various laws and policies on gender-based violence like the Marriage Act, 1971 (R.E 2002) that prohibits early childhood marriage. But she said it remained silent on wife beating, which was a common cultural practice. “The law has had little impact. However, it does not provide sanctions for violations, apart from the Penal Code, which prohibits assault. “The Penal Code protection against gender-based violence is limited in many ways such as it does not criminalise marital rape unless the couple is judicially separated. A minimum penalty of  30 years imprisonment has tended to work against the survivors of gender-based violence, who are often dependent on their assailant for their survival,” she said adding that neither the Marriage Act nor the Penal Code criminalised domestic violence.

She added that, Tanzania had signed several international conventions that had been ratified, such as the Convention to Eliminate all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which requires Tanzania and other member states to combat violence against women and adopt comprehensive measures to address all forms of violence against women and girls.

CEDAW general recommendation No 19 requires Tanzania as a state party to  combat gender-based violence by ensuring that violence against women and girls, including domestic violence, marital rate and all forms of sexual abuse constitute criminal offences, to raise public awareness through the media and education programmes, to ensure perpetrators are prosecuted, punished and rehabilitated. But she urged that, all this would not be practised if there was no political will to do so.

Another initiative taken by the government was the formulation of the National Action for Prevention and Eradication of Violence Against Women and Children in 2000, the formulation of the National Plan for Action for Acceleration of the Eradication of Female Genital Mutilation and the ratification of the African Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women among others.

Speaking about the sexual and reproductive health right, a private advocate, Victoria Mandari, said the laws and the community did not favour women to make a choice and access better health services. Women are dying during childbirth and die also of female genital mutilation, among others. She said it was important that women had the right to decide when to get married and give birth, had the right to access safe labour, to job protection during maternity leave and others. But over the years, the majority of these rights are a nightmare. 

New Constitution hope

She said for the first time Tanzanian women across different political, social and economic interests have managed to fight for one common agenda and sailed through during the constitution making process. She noted that although not all had been included, at least 75 per cent had been considered. She said Article 54, for example, spoke about women and their rights. The Constitution says every woman has the right to be respected and recognised, to be protected against all forms of discrimination, humiliation, oppression or any gender-based violence and bad traditional practices. A woman has the right to participate in any election without being discriminated against and she has also the right to employment at any level. The Constitution also speaks about the protection of her job during pregnancy and maternity leave, the right to good health services, including reproductive health and also, the right to own property.

“But that is one, we have seen a lot of such laws and policies in the past, but women continue to be the victims of injustice. We believe that if passed we will have the ground to blow horns, since we will do it by law.

“We are also requesting the government to consider having a special law on gender-based violence and reproductive health or a special board so that the victims could have proper guidelines when an incident of human rights violation occurs,” she said.

Members of Parliament said apart from the political battle over the passing of the proposed Constitution, on gender-based violence and the right to reproductive health, there is hope to see a lot being changed in the future. The Kigamboni MP, Dr Faustine Ndugulile, commended the seminar saying it helped in capacity building for legislators.

“The exclusion of reproductive right has contributed to millions of deaths of women in the country because formerly it was not taken as a right but now, the proposed Constitution is crystal clear about that. We hope for tremendous changes in the future,” said Dr Ndugulile

For his part, Tarime MP Nyambari Nyangwine said although the Constitution could not accommodate all proposed views about women, many views had been included. “It is true that the proposed Constitution has considered the reproductive health right, but that is one thing, its implementation is what will bring about desired  changes,” he said.