Grim Realities and Slivers of Hope

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One of the biggest challenges I always have in working in Africa is the fact that, as a women, you are constantly treated as a sexual object. Declarations of “you're beautiful, I love you, come here!” from random strangers are more disturbing than complimentary. Male friendships are almost impossible and more often than not end up in unwelcome advances.

These situations have a way of getting to me because I know its symptomatic of a much larger and deeply disturbing issue. According to national statistics, 44% of women in Tanzania experience sexual and/or physical violence and 30% of girls experience sexual violence before their 18th birthday. In addition, over 60% of girls think its okay for a husband to beat his wife if she does something such as argue with him, leave the house without telling him, burn food or doesn't properly take care of the household. I have been told flat out that here men don't sexually harassment women, they are just paying a compliment and admiring women.

Its a compliment though that most women would happily pass on. Which is why, EfG launched a small pilot campaign last winter on verbal abuse in the markets. “Mpe Riziki Si Matusi” or “Give Payment not Abuse” was an assertion of women's right to be treated as business owners and not sexual objects. Around 80% of women traders experience verbal and physical sexual harassment on a daily basis, especially from other male traders. It's not uncommon for men to use sexual harassment as a way to discourage women from asking for payment for their goods. Touching, grabbing, constant remarks serve to stop women from asserting themselves. And if the women object? Well this generally leads to greater harassment since you clearly don't know your place.

This campaign focused on working with both men and women market leaders and traders to create an environment where sexual harassment wasn't tolerated. Though the campaign was small, women involved said it continues to provided them with the strength to protest such behaviour and fellow male traders have even stepped up to stop harassment when they see it happen.

Drops of water in a very big bucket. Sometimes working in women's rights there are days you don't know whether to cry or scream in frustration. But this work is not for those who need to see instant results, changes or feel like you as an individual made the difference. Its for those who will celebrate small victories knowing they are part of a long-term, multi-generational battle. In the end you have to simply believe that its a fight worth fighting and these women clearly do.


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