Preventing and responding to gender-based violence in Tanzania

Helping survivors of GBV in Tanzania

Peter and Rehema have been married for over eight years and live in Tanzania with their three children. Throughout their marriage, Peter was known in his local community for committing violence against Rehema. Before his life changed, Peter says, he would spend his days drinking too much and coming home late, often disappearing for days at a time.

“I remember I beat her one day and she was injured, but I didn’t care. We remained silent for two weeks; again, I didn’t care,” he said.

The couple were invited by August Mbedue, a community mobilizer and local government worker, to attend a gender-transformation training based on EngenderHealth’s Couple Connect curriculum, designed to give couples the tools and skills to communicate in a healthy way and resolve conflicts. It was not easy to convince Peter to attend the sessions, as it is one of the gender barriers among many men in the Mufindi District. However, later, both Peter and Rehema agreed and attended 16 training sessions, working with other couples to obtain insights on handling financial disputes, addressing harmful gender norms, maintaining sexual and reproductive health, planning for the future, and other topics related to sustaining a strong and positive relationship. The learning sessions helped Peter to reflect on his marital relationship and thus gradually start to change his life and maintain a gender-transformed perspective.

The Couple Connect curriculum was developed by EngenderHealth in 2012 to address HIV and gender-based violence (GBV) in intimate and marital relationships, as well as improve couple communication. It was utilized initially under the CHAMPION Project, funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). It has also been used during the USAID-supported RESPOND Tanzania Project (RTP), as part of its programming to prevent and mitigate GBV and violence against children (VAC). In the Iringa and Njombe regions, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly, and Children (MOHCDGEC), and with support from USAID, EngenderHealth has worked to increase the quality and availability of GBV services, reduce the cultural acceptance of GBV, and improve the coordination of a national response to GBV through policy and social norms change.

After attending the Couple Connect training in July 2015 under RTP, Peter and Rehema reported that they now practice new skills in communication and conflict management. Peter no longer unfairly exerts power over Rehema, and he has stopped using violence against her. “We have started working together to improve our home situation and put our issues on the table for discussion,” said Peter. He affirmed that the training was transformational. Together, the couple founded Kihawaki – Kikundi cha Habari na Mawasiliano kwa Wanandoa Kitelewasi (Information and Communications Group for Married Couples of Kitelewasi), a community change group aimed at promoting healthy relationships among couples through sensitization activities in schools, public meeting houses, colleges, and even homes.

Under RTP, EngenderHealth supports and advises community change groups like Kihawaki to help change the lives of survivors of GBV and VAC at the community level. Since 2013, it has reached more than 28,000 survivors at health facilities and 33,756 individuals in the community. Working with the MOHCDGEC, EngenderHealth has also educated 20 trainers and 480 health service providers in GBV/VAC and assessed and strengthened the capacity of 121 facilities to provide GBV/VAC services. The organization has also conducted trainings in contraceptive counseling and provision of short-acting methods, to ensure that service providers better understand the linkages between GBV/VAC issues and family planning. It has held whole-site orientations and coordination meetings on GBV/VAC issues in 10 districts of the Iringa and Njombe regions and supported their council health management teams and the MOHCDGEC to develop and use national client monitoring tools.

Despite RTP’s successes in this area, there are still significant challenges to overcome, including the need for a full-range of well-coordinated GBV services; forensic equipment to appropriately address sexual violence; a clear policy and guidance on how to gather and use forensic evidence; and provision of quality GBV/VAC services across the health care system.

Through its cross-sectoral work with policymakers, health care providers, women’s rights groups, and legal aid organizations, EngenderHealth works to heal and support individuals and couples, like Peter and Rehema, to counter all forms of violence in their communities.