A day late(r)
In Tanzania, under Local Customary Law (Declaration No. 4) of 1963, widows are prohibited from inheriting property from their deceased husbands, which is instead transferred to male children and other surviving male relatives. After the death of their husbands, women often have to contend with property grabbing, eviction from their homes, and sometimes even the loss of their children by abusive relatives. Deprived not only of a place to live, but also of collateral and a potential source of income, widows are often rendered economically destitute. There are an estimated 4.98 million widows in Tanzania.
In Tanzania, the Law of Marriage Act requires women who want to obtain a divorce to attempt to reconcile with their husbands before the Marriage Conciliatory Board. The petition for divorce will be denied unless the Board certifies that there is no possibility of reconciliation. This has obvious and acute consequences for victims of domestic violence, of which there are many in Tanzania. A study conducted by the World Health Organization in 2001 / 2002 found that 41% of women in Dar es Salaam and 87% of women in the Mbeya District had experienced physical or sexual violence at the hands of a partner at some point in their lives.
In Tanzania, the Law of Marriage Act sets the minimum age of marriage at 14 for girls and at 18 for boys. There is a strong link between child marriage and low levels of education or non-education. Girls who are forced into child marriage are more likely to withdraw from school or to decide not to pursue a higher education. Perpetuating the cycle of poverty, women who have little education tend to start childbearing at younger ages, have more children too close together, and have prolonged childbearing years. The children of young, uneducated mothers in Tanzania are less likely to stay in school.
In Tanzania, whether they are related or not, women affectionately call each other dada, or sister. Men are called kaka, or brother. I like this idea that we are all sisters and brothers, connected by something greater than blood. I don’t know, though, how we can sit back and watch as 87% (87%!) of our sisters in Mbeya are beaten, as our 14 year old sisters are forced into marriage and deprived of an education, as land is stolen from our widows.
This situation is not unique to Tanzania. Yesterday was International Women’s Day. Let’s do something to help our sisters in Tanzania and around the world the other 364 days of the year.