(30 May 2016) A 16-year-old girl in Tanzania leaves her family home and enters into an abusive marriage. A year later, she gives birth to her first child. According to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, she’s still technically a girl, but her life is shaped by adult pressures. In terms of protection, should she be considered a child — or a woman? The government of Tanzania has decided, with technical support from UNICEF, to create a different holistic and rights based option: they will integrate separate efforts on violence affecting women and violence affecting children into one programme.
Despite obvious overlaps between these two fields of prevention, traditional programming continues to treat women and children as separate elements of society. Catherine Maternowska, lead researcher of UNICEF Innocenti’s Multi-Country Study of Drivers of Violence Affecting Children, recently hosted a series of workshops in Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar to unpack the intersections between these two fields.
This merger, Maternowska says, ‘is a logical step for advocates of both women’s and children’s issues, who often find themselves facing the same challenges’.
“In a country like Tanzania where early child marriage is a significant problem, a 10-year-old girl is still a child under the Convention for the Rights of the Child,” Maternowska said. “Yet, her reproductive rights, as she emerges into motherhood, must also be addressed by the women’s sector. It’s essential to recognize her multiplicity of needs while also ensuring that she has full access to sexual and reproductive health services.”
According to continued learning from the Multi-Country Study, which is taking place in Italy, Peru, Zimbabwe and Viet Nam, social and cultural norms can determine levels of tolerance for violence. Integrating violence prevention services for women and children (including boys as well as girls) begins to address the way that gender and power inform a child’s life as well as the individual’s future outcomes. Increasingly, the field of violence prevention is encouraging social norms change as a way to encourage the kind of broad and sustainable social shifts needed to address gender and power imbalances.
A participant in a Dar es Salaam workshop recounted her own lesson in gender norms when she was unexpectedly reclassified as a woman at 12 years of age.
“When I was 12, I didn’t know that girls and boys were expected to be different. I would say I grew up as a tomboy,” she said. “That year, I ran away from my madrassa and didn’t go to classes for about a month. Instead, I was going to swim with a group of boys. One day, my grandfather passed away. When mother came to collect me from school, she learned from the teachers that I hadn’t attended for weeks. Later, my mother sat me down and said, ‘You are almost a woman. You need to stop behaving like a boy now.’ I was shocked. Before that, I had just thought of myself as… me.”
International attention has recently turned to Tanzania after it became the first country in Africa to declare its intent to be a pathfinder country under the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children, which will launch later this year. Maniza Zaman, Country Representative at the UNICEF Tanzania Country Office, is hopeful this groundbreaking approach will reenergize efforts in the violence prevention sector. “This National Plan of Action is innovative because it aims to address both issues: violence against children and violence against women,” Zaman said. “The integrated plan holds promise. It will benefit from a higher level of oversight, lead to more streamlined coordination from national down to village level and also better linkages between parallel programmes.”
The approach will be among the first on the continent to harmonise national databases, centralise ministry functions and help coordinate government and civil society work. Additionally, the combined plan will eliminate the conundrum of labelling and separating victims of violence. One critical element will be recognition of every individual’s evolving needs throughout the life cycle: all children become adults and all adults were once children.
“The priority of violence prevention programming should be to reduce an individual’s vulnerabilities and increase opportunities — before violence enters the picture at all,” Maternowska said. “We’re deeply encouraged by the determination in Tanzania to accomplish this innovation in rights agendas.”