Updated: Apr 21
by raphael dennis
Violence against women and children is a global problem that requires collective action to solve.
In partnership with Women Fund Tanzania Trust, we conducted a two-year Participatory Action Research project to identify, engage with, and learn how people in Shinyanga district, Tanzania resolve the collective action problem of violence against women and children. This study directly engaged with over 2,200 community members, and took an intersectional approach to ending violence against women and children, recognising and addressing the multiple and interconnected forms of oppression and discrimination that contribute to the issue. The research findings provide valuable insights for the feminist and child rights movements, as well as advocating for community-based protection programmes to be prioritized for enhancing the impact of Tanzania’s National Plan of Action to End Violence.
Efforts to end violence often fail to address the underlying patriarchal system in which violence arises.
This research found that violence is perpetuated by a patriarchal system that is inherently coercive and oppressive, particularly towards women and children due to their age and gender. Despite the existence of rules about familial roles and behavior, everyday violence towards women and children is not seen as a violation and is not punished. Patriarchal norms are sustained by the unwritten rule that gendered beliefs are in everyone's best interests, and men protect their power by insisting on adherence to these norms.
The study also reveals that domestic violence enforces the unwritten rule that men should have power over women and children and that adherence to this patriarchal norm ensures social acceptance in Shinyanga. Those who challenge these norms or fail to conform to conservative values may be subjected to violence as a means of restoring patriarchal order.
Furthermore, the prevailing assumption in Shinyanga district is that power is expressed as strength and that it 'just is' - something that is largely unquestioned, immovable, and inherent within the social and familial structure and associated social roles. Women are expected to keep family matters confidential and not share them with anyone outside of the family. They are instructed to listen to their mother-in-law and husband, rather than seeking outside perspectives. Women are expected to accept their assigned position in society, including any mistreatment from their husband, and limit themselves to domestic responsibilities rather than pursuing public roles.
Tanzania is in a state of transition, moving away from traditional customs and towards modernity, characterised by changing cultures, expanding education and technology, and urban life. Despite a widespread belief in Shinyanga that patriarchal systems give men a dominant position of power, there are also differing perspectives on this issue. Young people, women (who are building their economic autonomy), and progressive men are all challenging patriarchal beliefs and traditions that have, until now, justified male domination. Their main concern as reflected in this study lies in how to renegotiate the patriarchal system in a way that recognises and honors the diverse expressions of power among women, men, and children.
Solving the Problem
To challenge the patriarchal system and everyday violence, the study proposes a theory of action that unleashes people's “power within" and "power with." This theory of action highlights an opportunity for change because the patriarchal system is inherently fragile, given how it causes pain for everyone, even those who benefit from the system. Also, its coercive nature and the domestic violence that maintains it contradict the community's claimed values, such as working hard, being community-minded, and respecting everyone.
By naming and problematising patriarchal norms, the theory of action suggests that it becomes possible to address and prevent violence against women and children. By recognising these dynamics, we can work towards building a more just and equitable society for all.
Check out the full research paper here.