Taking a Stand: Letting Youth Lead in Ending Violence against Women in Tanzania

“My husband used to be a heavy drinker. When he would get drunk, we would get into fights and he would beat me. He would accuse me of being an unfaithful wife.”—Betty Mtweve

In the United Republic of Tanzania, such incidences of gender-based violence (GBV) are not uncommon.

Almost three in 10 women and girls aged 13–24 in Tanzania reported having experienced at least one incident of sexual violence before their 18th birthday, and 39% of women ages 15–49 have ever experienced physical violence since age 15 (according to the 2009 National Survey of Violence against Children).[1] Victims and families are often stigmatized. Perpetrators are often near and known to the victims. The cycle of violence in communities does not end.

Youth in Iringa, Tanzania’s southern highland region, are hoping to change that.

One morning in 2015, youth aged 18–25 in the Iringa Region marked the 16 Days of Activism to End Gender-based Violence against Women campaign, which seeks to end violence against women and children. The youth watched a film called AISHA and participated in dance workshops, reflecting on dance performances that depicted the GBV that occurs in many communities. The youth went on to share and write down the actions that they would take against such violence, which were later displayed in various venues in the Iringa Municipality. AISHA is UZIKWASA’s third in a series of feature films about common forms of violence against women and girls. It tells a story about stigma, shame, victim blaming, and authorities’ and leaders’ reluctance to take action against violations of women’s rights. The youth reflected on the repercussions of the violence that they had seen in the film and wrote bold action statements on what they would do if they encountered GBV in their communities.

Youth often face challenges such as unemployment, lack of education, and peer pressure. Adversity is greater still for young girls who drop out of school due to pregnancy or who encounter early or forced marriage. How then do they break that cycle of violence?

“Transformation can only happen across the gender barrier, and it is important to mirror issues of gender injustice and its consequences to both boys and girls through ongoing dialogue about these issues,” explained Novatus Urassa, UZIKWASA’s Gender and Transformative Leadership Program Manager.

Facilitating an AISHA reflective workshop
Novatus Urassa, UZIKWASA Gender and Transformative Leadership Program Manager, facilitating an AISHA reflective workshop © Sekela Kyomo/EngenderHealth.

Amy Miller, Associate Artistic Director from Gibney Dance, based in New York, agreed: “[Youth] are where the choice makers are, they are pushing the world forward. And they are noticing what is not working in the world and they are raising their voices. And to be there to support that is powerful.”

Over the duration of the campaign, dancers from Gibney Dance and MUDA Africa delivered youth-focused dance workshops called Hands Are for Holding, a Gibney Dance advocacy event that used dance to raise awareness about GBV, highlighting ways in which young people can take action in their communities. Several short dance pieces depicting various scenarios of GBV were performed, after which the youth were given the opportunity to reflect on what they had witnessed and to voice their intentions by writing down what action they would take the next time they encountered GBV in their daily lives.

“With dance, you empower the youth not only with education, but also with the opportunity of being employed,” said Ian Mwaisunga, Artistic Director and teacher at MUDA Africa. One of Ian’s students, Samuel Japhet, had found that dance had worked for him in this way. Before joining MUDA Dance, Samuel had lived on the streets for four years and had grown up with a passion for dancing. He auditioned, was accepted as a dancer at MUDA Dance, and now works as a trainer. “The youth are the future generation. How you mold and prepare them now is how they will be in the future,” he said.

Reflective dance workship exercise
A young person taking part in a reflective dance workshop exercise with dancer Brandon Welch of Gibney Dance © Sekela Kyomo/EngenderHealth.

But not all are as fortunate as Samuel. Where can they go to get help?

“One of the efforts for improving our services was the creation of a police gender desk unit.[2] For those who understand what we do and report to us, we act immediately and ensure the privacy of the victims,” said Upendo Gama, Iringa Police Gender Desk Officer. “With more people becoming aware of what gender-based violence is, more are reporting acts of violence.”

EngenderHealth’s Interventions on GBV in Tanzania

In an effort to reduce GBV, EngenderHealth set up and has continued to support community action teams (CATs), volunteer-based groups established to help address GBV. The CATs seek to reduce the social acceptance of GBV in the community by providing learning sessions about GBV and violence against children (VAC), increasing awareness of GBV-related services available at health facilities, and spotlighting the links between facilities and social, legal, and psychosocial services.

Since the commencement of EngenderHealth’s GBV interventions in the region, 55 health facilities have been supported to provide GBV and VAC services in the region, serving 5,538 GBV-related clients. Forty-one CATs received GBV training, and through awareness raising, they reached 1,162 community members in 20 wards of Iringa Municipal and Mufindi District Council.

So what will the youth do differently?

“Nitatoa taarifa kituo cha polisi.” (I will report such incidents to police station.)

“Nitawahi kituo cha huduma za afya kupata matibabu.” (I will soon go to a health facility for medical care.)

“Nitamshitaki kwenye vyombo vya sharia.” (I will report him/her to legal bodies.)

“Kuwakutanisha pamoja hao wawili na kuona kama itakuwa rahisi kutatua tatizo.” (I will reconcile the two and find out if it will be easy to solve the problem.)

Group of youth participants
A group photo of youth participants, dancers and facilitators after a dance workshop session in Kihesa, Iringa © Sekela Kyomo/EngenderHealth.


The 16 Days of Activism to End Violence against Women campaign was supported by the regional authorities of the Iringa Region, the U.S. Embassy of Tanzania, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), under the USAID-supported RESPOND Tanzania Project (RTP). RTP is an EngenderHealth-led project that works in close collaboration with Tanzania’s Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, the Elderly and Children (MOHCDGEC) to support efforts to curb GBV and VAC and to increase the availability, quality, and utilization of GBV- and VAC-related health services as part of its broader scope of work.


[1] UNICEF Tanzania, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences. 2011. Violence against children in Tanzania: Findings from a national survey, 2009. Summary report on the prevalence of sexual, physical and emotional violence, context of sexual violence, and health and behavioral consequences of violence experienced in childhood. Dar es Salaam.

[2] In an effort to reduce GBV in the country, former Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mr. Said Mwema, created the Tanzania Police Female Network (TPFNet) in 2007, which led to the creation of Gender Desks in police stations in the country.