White Ribbon Day in Tanzania: Ending Violence Against Women Through Safe Motherhood
by Diana Copeland, Communication Officer, White Ribbon Alliance
Jamarathi Clizestom stepped on stage and took the microphone, then, with her six-month old son on her back, told her story. Her husband, she said, tried to kill her by stabbing her in the neck. She struggled, she continued, until the knife broke in two. He pushed her down and used one piece of the knife to stab her 11 times in the back. She became weak and fainted as her father arrived and chased her husband away, she told the crowd, gathered for 14th annual White Ribbon Day, with this year’s theme being gender-based violence.
WRA Tanzania is working to eliminate all forms of violence against women, of which there are many. For White Ribbon Day, they focused on the connection between gender-based violence (GBV) and deaths in childbirth, connecting the dots between violence against women in health facilities and the impact it causes by deterring facility-based care. When pregnant women know that giving birth in a facility will lead to abusive treatment — including slapping, name calling and other forms of disrespect and abuse — they choose to give birth at home, without the aid of a skilled health worker or qualified midwife, risking complications that can lead to injury or death for the woman and her newborn.
Anna Sawaki, WRA Tanzania’s Advocacy and Communication Manager, takes a broad view of the GBV and childbirth deaths connection by saying, “A husband who refuses to practice family planning, forcing his wife to give birth whether she is ready or willing, is practicing a form of violence against his wife.”
Clizestom was rushed to their local health facility after her husband attacked her, and later was referred to a bigger facility. The case was reported to the police who took the case to the court, but her husband was released on bail and continued to threaten Jamarathi. The case was ultimately dismissed.
Sawaki explained that in a society where a woman’s husband or mother-in-law is more likely than the woman herself to make the decision on how, when, or where a woman can give birth, the abuse of women’s health and rights is more commonplace.
WRA Tanzania’s National Coordinator Rose Mlay said, “Violence at health facilities makes women fear to seek lifesaving services. Worse, women in violent environments think it is normal to be mistreated and are therefore very vulnerable to mistreatment and abuse.”
Ending violence against women, including by child marriages and teenage pregnancies which often occur in tandem with physical and/or emotional abuse, will contribute to improved reproductive, maternal and newborn health outcomes by empowering women to act and report any abuse from the family, community or facility. When women and girls are educated and empowered about their health and rights, they can be their own best advocates for respectful maternity care, and more. And, with an increase in facility deliveries, more women will have access to skilled birth attendants, reducing maternal newborn mortality and morbidity and saving the lives of countless Tanzanian women and girls.
Clizestom condemned what she felt was injustice by the magistrate and pointed out that her story had been covered by more than 10 media houses. The crowd expressed dismay and called for the case to be reviewed. WRA Tanzania connected Clizestom to a Women’s Lawyers Network called Mama’s Hope Legal Assistance in Kagera region, where she is from, and hopefully where she will get the support she needs.
WRA Tanzania’s White Ribbon Day event is just the start of an awareness-raising campaign connecting violence against women in all its forms and preventable deaths in childbirth. The day’s activities included a march attended by more than 700 people and, in addition to Clizestrom’s powerful story, there was an open dialogue around ending violence against women and girls, respectful maternity care and the universal rights of childbearing women.
Honorable Deodatus Kinawilo, Bukoba District Commissioner, attended White Ribbon Day on behalf of the Tanzanian Ministry of Health, Social Welfare, Gender, Elderly and Children. He listened to the testimonies of women and girls as they spoke out against abusive treatment and gave a government commitment in front of the crowd of citizens and media representatives on the actions that will be taken to end the problem of violence against women in health facilities, saying, “It’s every woman’s right to be treated with dignity, privacy and respect.”
WRA Tanzania celebrated its first White Ribbon Day in 2006, to commemorate the countless women who have died in childbirth from preventable causes — and to help Tanzania face this silent epidemic, take decisive political action and ensure that no woman ever again dies in childbirth. Supported by UN Women and USAID Boresha Afya, WRA Tanzania has recently gotten more formally involved in efforts to end violence against women, working with partners to implement the Project on Ending Violence Against Women and Girls.
As the day drew to a close, the team from WRA Tanzania was heartened by the day’s events, the commitment from the government to address violence against women and the support from citizens from across the region. Contemplating Clizestom’s harrowing experiences, Mlay surmised, “Although she is left with no job and must care for her two-year old daughter and six-month old son, Jamarathi Clizestrom is very, very resilient.”
Rose Mlay and Anna Sawaki of WRA Tanzania contributed to this story.