Tanzanian women who experience violence face an array of barriers when they seek help, and as a result, few women solicit or receive appropriate support, according to a new International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) report.
The report, “Help-Seeking Pathways and Barriers for Survivors of Gender-based Violence in Tanzania,” is based on a qualitative study in the Dar es Salaam, Iringa and Mbeya regions of the country. Researchers aimed to document community perceptions and attitudes about violence against women, identify available services for survivors as well as gaps in resources, and provide recommendations for improving existing services.
The study will inform the design of a new initiative by the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which strives to advance the availability and quality of services for survivors in Tanzania, improve the national response to violence and enhance research evidence related to gender-base violence, among other goals. ICRW conducted the research in partnership with representatives from EngenderHealth’s CHAMPION Project and researchers from the University of Dar es Salaam. The effort was supported by PEPFAR and the United States Agency for International Development.
Violence against women is widespread in Tanzania, with 44 percent of women reporting in the most recent Demographic Health Survey that they’ve experienced physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime. Support services, meanwhile, are inadequate.
For the study, ICRW partnered with a team from the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Dar es Salaam to conduct interviews with service providers, male and female community members and others. Jennifer McCleary-Sills, a social and behavioral scientist, and Sophie Namy, a gender and development specialist, led the research for ICRW.
Based on the interviews, researchers found that many types of gender-based violence – such as forced sex or physical violence in a relationship – were perceived as socially acceptable. In terms of physical abuse, many women said that they came to expect and even accept such violence because that is the norm in their community.
Women who experience violence seldom report it to anyone, including the police or medical personnel, the study found. If women do seek help, they often face an extremely slow, cumbersome process that neither prioritizes survivors’ needs nor responds to violence as an emergency situation. What’s more, researchers found that adequate support and justice are often blocked by a host of socio-cultural and structural barriers. For instance, many women fear being blamed for reporting a rape or are hesitant to access the justice system if her perpetrator has the means to possibly pay off police or a government official.
Gaps in services for survivors of violence were found across the various regions in the study. However, researchers discovered that obstacles for those seeking help and to access to care were particularly prevalent in rural locations and communities outside of Dar es Salaam, the capital.
The study offers a comprehensive set of recommendations to improve how the government and all sectors respond to gender-based violence in general and survivors’ needs in particular. If implemented effectively, researchers say their recommendations have the potential to further strengthen Tanzania’s efforts to prevent and eliminate violence against women.