Gendered Violence

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Linna building, Väinö Linna auditorium, address: Kalevantie 5

Regina Opoku

Doctoral defence of MA Regina Opoku

Gendered Violence: Patterns and Causes of Women-to-Women Violence in the Lake Zone Regions of Tanzania, East Africa

The field of science of the dissertation is Social work.

The opponent is professor Janet Anand (University of Eastern Finland). Professor Tarja Pösö acts as the custos.

The language of the dissertation defence is English.

Gendered Violence: Patterns and Causes of Women-to-Women Violence in the Lake Zone Regions of Tanzania, East Africa

This study explored the mechanisms that sustain the phenomenon of women-to-women violence in the patriarchal communities of the Kuria and the Kerewe ethnic groups located in the north-western part of Tanzania. Most cultures in the patriarchal communities have traditionally exercised strict control over the female bodies in a wide range of cultural practices in Africa. Women and girls in these communities are made to undergo and are unable to oppose certain traditional practices even when these practices have adverse consequences on their health and lives. Studies in this field have indicated that elderly women in Africa are implicated in ensuring the implementation of the gender roles for the political and economic stability for the social order.

This study attempted to answer three research questions: How is the phenomenon of “women-to-women” violence perpetuated over time? What are the mechanisms in which women establish domination and power over fellow women? What are the driving force feeding continual women-to-women violence? The focus of the study was on three traditional practices: female genital cutting (FGC), widow cleansing rituals, and woman-to-woman marriage, which are examples of subtle cultural violence perpetuated by women on women.

FGC is the removal of part or all the female genitalia as a rite of passage from childhood to adulthood. Widow cleansing ritual is a cultural practice some women undergo after the death of their husband. It requires the widow to have sex with a village cleanser to be purified from the haunted spirit of her deceased husband. Woman-to-woman marriage (Nyumba Ntobhu) refers to the institution whereby a barren woman or a woman who have only girl children pay a dowry to marry another woman (very often a younger woman) and assumes control over her and her offspring. These three practices continue to exist in communities along the Lake Zone regions of Tanzania despite efforts made to address and curb them through various initiatives nationally and internationally.

This study was guided by critical social work theory, which deals with issues of power and powerlessness, oppression, privilege, the impacts of structural issues on peoples’ lives, empowerment, consciousness raising and liberation of people.

The study adopted a qualitative approach, where data were gathered via interviews, which drew on the biographical narratives of a selected group of women who were subjects to the traditional practices examined. Interviews (n=26) and focus group discussions (n=6) were conducted to collect the empirical data. The narratives were collected in collaboration with the “Kivulini Women’s Rights Organisation,” (NGO) that works in the targeted area. Interviews and discussions were recorded in Kiswahili, which were later translated into English and transcribed. Thematic analyses were used to analyze the data.

The study found, firstly, that the traditional practices that are intended to give identity and shape the social well-being of the women and girls also harm their sexuality and affect their health in various ways. While the senior women acknowledged the harm done to women’s bodies through the traditional practices, they perceived their role in promoting the rituals as a duty. However, they do not recognise their involvement as perpetuating violence due to the societal demand of cultural and traditional beliefs. Secondly, this study discovered that the state laws recognise the application of the customary laws related to female genital cutting, and widow cleansing rituals. However, where the customary laws violated the rights of the women, the state laws fall short to provide the mechanism for the resolutions of the conflict that arose between the norms of the studied socio-cultural practices and the human rights norms. The woman-to-woman marriage is neither mentioned nor recognised in the state law. Hence, women in the studied communities continue to be discriminated against and their rights violated. Thirdly, the study highlighted that there is a culture of silence in the patriarchal society about the types of violence that is intertwined with traditional practices.

The study concludes that the women’s fear of bad omen, the curse of the ancestral spirits and community ostracisation or isolation rather than government sanctions had kept the practice alive and on-going. These findings give certain tasks for social work. Hence, the study recommends that social workers need to coordinate as facilitators to network with all the entities such as local community members and organisations (both government and NGOs) who are involved in community building in bringing about the needed change. In addition, social workers need to conscientise the locals to address the perceived oppressive practices in their communities and encourage them to replace the harm-inducing cultural and traditional practices with symbolic rituals that are meaningful in their own context.


The dissertation is published in the publication series of Acta Universitatis Tamperensis; 2261, Tampere University Press, Tampere 2017. The dissertation is also published in the e-series Acta Electronica Universitatis Tamperensis; 1762, Tampere University Press 2017.

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