The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) is a global research institute with offices in Washington, D.C., New Delhi and Nairobi. ICRW works to promote women’s participation and empowerment in communities around the world, and highlights the role of women in global poverty alleviation efforts.
ICRW has recently carried out a qualitative study in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, about gender based and domestic violence. The study documented prevailing attitudes and perceptions about gender based violence (GBV) in Tanzania, availability of formal and informal services for GBV survivors, and highlighted gaps in service provision. The report that came out of the study, titled “Help-Seeking Pathways and Barriers for Survivors of Gender-Based Violence in Tanzania”, provides concrete, practical recommendations for improving existing mechanisms and bridge gaps to improve women’s access to crucial services.
While the study identifies structural barriers for women’s access to GBV support and help services, such as weaknesses in the existing service provision system and gaps in women’s knowledge and understanding of services available to them, it also highlights important normative and cultural barriers that hinder women’s willingness and ability to access such services even if and when they exist. The study found that while most participants were aware of what GBV is, and could list a range of violent behaviors that would fall under GBV, many forms of violence were also largely accepted as normal behavior and were perceived acceptable under the existing cultural and social norms. The rate of women seeking help after experiencing domestic or gender based violence is very low, and women are generally expected to rely on immediate family for help and support. ICRW’s study examined the community definitions of GBV and attitudes of men and women towards different forms of violence, and found a range of violent behavior that is broadly considered as acceptable or fairly acceptable by both male and female respondents.
Most men and women consider intimate partner violence normal, and physical violence is seen as something that is part of being married. Both male and female participants also brought up the issue of provocation and blame in domestic abuse, and shared the opinion that if a woman goes against her husband, she risks being beaten up as a result. The general notion is that women are often somehow at fault for violence they experience, particularly in a marriage, and that they have somehow provoked their partner to act violently against them through their own behavior.
“Yes, it’s normal being beaten, yelled at. If you tell (anyone), your peers will ask you, “Is this your first time to be beaten?” Some of us are used to it, just like the way we are used to eating ugali.” –Female PFG participant, 25+ years old, Mbeya. Quote from the ICRW report.
Though a lot of what the study has revealed is, sadly, not new nor surprising, nor is it in any way confined to Tanzania but common in many countries and cultures around the world, highlighting the cultural and normative barriers to GBV survivors’ access to support and help services is crucial for ensuring that such barriers are adequately addressed in policies, programmes and interventions that aim to increase women’s access to crucial services and decrease rate of violence against women. Structural barriers, such as lack of service providers in remote or rural areas, bad road conditions, service fees that are out of reach for low income women, etc. are often more easy to identify and quantify, than those barriers related to normative or cultural beliefs and traditions. However, as long as cultural and normative barriers exist, and violence against women continues to be generally accepted as part of normal male-female relationships, increasing service provision, training health workers or providing more resources for GBV support services won’t be sufficient for ensuring that women actually can and will access these services. These measures, while important and essential, also don’t always address the underlying drivers and causes of domestic violence. Therefore, for any program or intervention that aims to both increase women’s access to and use of such services, and change prevailing norms and attitudes towards GBV, both structural and cultural barriers have to be addressed. Studies such as this one, that have a strong emphasis on documenting the dominant attitudes and perceptions about gender based and domestic violence, can offer concrete, evidence-based recommendations and guidance to policy makers and programme initiatives for promoting a deeper societal change that can then lead to not only improved availability of and access to services for survivors of GBV, but also contribute to changing the prevailing attitudes and acceptability of domestic and gender based violence. This, in turn, will hopefully result in lower rates of domestic and gender based violence – which is ultimately the only real, sustainable and comprehensive solution to violence against women and girls. While services for survivors of GBV are crucial and essential, what we ultimately want to aim for is a world where such services are no longer needed.
Full report: McCleary-Sills, J., Namy, S., Nyoni, J., Rweyemamu, D., Steven, E., Salvatory, A. (2013). Help-Seeking Pathways and Barriers for Survivors of Gender-based Violence in Tanzania: Results from a Study in Dar es Salaam, Mbeya, and Iringa Regions. Dar es Salaam, Tanzania: EngenderHealth/CHAMPION.