While it has one of sub-Saharan Africa’s fastest growing economies, Tanzania is still facing some stark development challenges. Twelve million Tanzanians still live in extreme poverty – earning less than $0.60 a day of earnings. Children under 18 make up 50% of the entire population – meaning 800,000 more Tanzanians need jobs each year.
Often, when money is short, the first programs to be cut are those targeting women and girls. Preventing violence against them is one example: the field is chronically under-funded, throughout the world.
But Tanzania has bucked the trend – and become a global leader with its radical US$119 million (267,440,809,820 TZS) plan to end violence. At the recent End Violence Summit, its new National Action Plan – which promises to cut violence against women and children in half by 2022 – was lauded by, among others, the UN’s Deputy Secretary-General and Sweden’s government.
The plan is innovative in a number of ways. Critically, it focuses on preventing violence before it occurs – rather than responding once it’s too late. To do so, it outlines a plan to work with communities to address root causes, including poverty, gender inequality, and the social tolerance of violence.
Today, a third of men and women in Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous island of Tanzania, believe a husband beating a wife is justified in certain circumstances. Physical punishment of children in schools is often considered a necessary and positive childrearing practice.
Innovating by tackling women and children together
Unusually, the plan also integrates work for women and children together in one unified strategy – after 15 years of separate plans and policies.
It hopes to improve efficiency and duplication; many of the services that respond to women and child survivors of violence overlap, from police desks specifically for women and children to social welfare officers and health workers.
“Traditionally we had a plan for gender-based violence and a separate plan for violence against children. But there was a lot of duplication of effort”
“Traditionally we had a plan for gender-based violence and a separate plan for violence against children. But it was found that there was a lot of duplication of effort and resources,” said Fatma Bilal, the Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Labour, Empowerment, Elderly, Youth, Women and Children in Zanzibar, which has a parallel action plan.
But the rationale goes beyond efficiency. Tanzania is one of the first countries to centre in on new evidence around the deep and dangerous links between violence against women and violence against children.
Child victims of violence or neglect have an increased risk of becoming either perpetrators or victims of violence as adults. Child abuse and domestic violence often co-occur. And both share many root causes and risk factors: gender inequality, economic insecurity, weak legal sanctions, fragile human rights protections, and social norms around the acceptability of violence.
“The risk factors that affected the women and children are almost the same”
“We found that the risk factors that affected the women and children are almost the same. Let’s say poverty – if the families are surrounded by the poverty cycle, that increases the risk of violence. But, if women economically empowered at home, it’s going to reduce it in a big way,” said Sihaba Nkinga, Tanzania’s Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children.
Integrating programming for women and children does pose some risks. Either women or children may end up sidelined, without enough specialist services. There will have to be trade-offs.
Nonetheless, the plan has achieved something undoubtedly striking. It has bridged a deep division within the violence prevention field, with work on violence against women and children usually employing different structures, agencies, funding, and conceptual frameworks.
Building the political will
“One big challenge we’ve had is that in our social culture, violence against children and women are some of the issues you cannot discuss – they are still taboo,” said Bilal.
Because of these taboos – and a culture of silence around reporting violence often associated with stigma, fear, and social alienation – new and improved data has been fundamental in building the political will for such an ambitious plan.
“Good data is important to make the invisible visible”
“Data is critical in violence prevention because this issue is often hidden and private. Good data is important to make the invisible visible,” said Professor Charlotte Watts, Chief Scientific Adviser at the UK’s Department for International Development.
Routine, administrative data may reveal little about levels of violence in a society, as most survivors don’t seek services. “So, when we’re thinking about monitoring levels of violence in society, the best practice or gold standard is to start looking at survey population,” said Watts.
Tanzania has been at the forefront of the drive for better data. It was one of the first countries to publish its comprehensive survey on violence against children in 2011, revealing that one in three girls and one in seven boys experienced some form of sexual violence before the age of 18. The survey also found that 72% of girls and 71% of boys have experienced physical violence. Most children do not report their experience, few seek services, and even fewer actually receive any care, treatment, or support if they do report.
“The survey was a wakeup call”
“The survey was a wakeup call – it gave us awareness of the magnitude of the problem and the data became our directive,” said Nkinga.
“After that, we, the technical people, sat down with our politicians and discussed. The data showed a situation where we couldn’t wait, we needed to take action. So, yes the data drives the political will,” she added.
The real challenge: implementation
Reducing violence against women and children by 50% in five years is a monumental task. And a plethora of challenges lies ahead.
One is around really engaging the population to help drive change. “You need time to change values and norms in the community – someone may have been beating children for years, and grown up being beaten. You need to discuss with people, to give them the education, to understand the impact, what is the problem – this is a big challenge,” said Nkinga.
Another is around ensuring the resources are there from all the different stakeholders to fulfil their parts of the bargain. Given the level of detail and number of actors involved, the plan has many moving parts, and successful implementation will rely on political will.
“The issue of financial resources is acute”
“One responsibility of my ministry is to make sure that everybody implements and is accountable. It’s tough, it’s not an easy job, that’s the challenge. Because some people think we should provide the money – even though it says it is their sector or ministry in the plan that is responsible for that intervention,” said Nkinga.
The same concern arises in Zanzibar: “The issue of financial resources is acute. The plan has already been costed, and it is a lot of money, so the issue is the mobilisation of resources and fundraising. We are trying to prioritise the key issues that could be implemented considering the resource constraint,” said Bilal.
But, if implemented, the plan could end up being a striking financial investment for the country — as well as changing the lives of millions of people. Violence against women and children is estimated to cost Tanzania over $6.5 billion – or 7% of the national GDP – many times higher than the cost of preventing it.
(Picture credit: Flickr/iammajki)