Dar es Salaam, Tanzania – The World Union of Catholic Women’s Organisation (WUCWO) and its World Women’s Observatory (WWO) hosted lay and religious women delegates from across the African continent, with the aim of establishing a network dedicated to addressing issues of gender-based violence (GBV) and discrimination, from July 3rd to July 6th, 2023. Women from 26 lay organisations, 27 congregations and 5 religious conferences in 22 countries participated.
This event was a follow-up of the previous workshop held in Nairobi (Kenya) in May 2022, where WUCWO, with 22 of its member organisations from Africa, defined the themes to be worked on in Africa. The outcomes of the workshop highlighted the urgency of addressing gender-based violence and set the tone for this workshop’s discussions.
The conference began with an opening mass that emphasised the vital role women play in the church. Reverend Fr. Charles Kitima, the Secretary General of the Bishops Conference of Tanzania, recognised the transformative power of women in the world and emphasised their significance in the salvation of mankind.
The workshop also received the honourable presence of Dr. Dorothy Gwajima, the Tanzanian Minister of Community Development, Gender, Women, and Special Groups, who expressed the government's commitment to addressing gender-based violence and called for collaboration with WUCWO and the delegates to achieve this crucial goal.
The event delved deep into the complexities of gender-based violence, exploring its definitions, manifestations, and underlying factors contributing to its prevalence. It was unanimously acknowledged that gender-based violence primarily occurs within intimate relationships and can take the form of physical violence or economic violence.
A distinguished panel of experts, including advocates for victims of gender-based violence and renowned scholars, gathered to shed light on the causes and solutions of domestic violence. They emphasised the pervasive nature of this issue across diverse communities, irrespective of contextual variations. The panellists highlighted power dynamics that often make women the primary victims of domestic violence, pointing to religious and cultural beliefs, limited access to education and early marriages as contributing factors.
Following the panel discussion, conference attendees were divided into groups to address specific questions related to domestic violence. These groups tackled crucial topics such as identifying emerging forms of violence, exploring institutions dedicated to combating gender- based violence, proposing alternative approaches to campaigning against domestic violence at the familial and community levels, and formulating strategies for managing and rehabilitating victims and survivors of domestic violence in Africa.
Another significant focus of the workshop was economic violence against women, which stems from cultural, educational, and religious contexts. Young women are often confined to traditional gender roles as homemakers, leading to a denial of inheritance rights and limited access to education. This leaves them vulnerable to economic control by their partners, perpetuating a cycle of economic violence that is largely unreported and overlooked.
Delegates engaged in a thought-provoking discussion on economic violence, addressing issues prevalent in their respective countries and recognising institutions that have made strides in eradicating this form of abuse. They also brainstormed innovative measures to enhance equality and minimise economic violence, with a strong emphasis on eliminating generational feminized poverty. The pivotal role of the World Women's Observatory (WWO) in curbing economic violence and advocating for a just and peaceful society for all was highlighted.
The workshop's second day commenced with a powerful screening of "Invisibles," a short film depicting the harrowing stories of domestic violence survivors. This screening shed light on the efforts already undertaken to compile these narratives and served as a catalyst for discussions on the analytical framework and guiding principles for addressing domestic violence.
Delegates also took the opportunity to immerse themselves in the cultural richness of Dar es Salaam, visiting the national museum and culminating the day with a momentous celebration of holy mass at St. Joseph's Cathedral, graced by the presence of His Excellence, Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Ruwa'ichi. In his address, he emphasised the importance of upholding Christian values amidst societal changes and acknowledged the integral role of women, particularly mothers, in safeguarding these cherished principles.
A standout moment of the third day of the workshop was the presentation by Magistrate Nabwike Mbaba, representing the Tanzanian Women Judges Association (TAWJA). She underlined the critical role of the justice system in safeguarding women's rights and highlighted the various initiatives employed by TAWJA to raise awareness about available legal services. She also advocated for collaboration between the church and the legal fraternity in addressing pressing issues related to gender-based violence.
Addressing the educational deficit for young girls was another crucial topic discussed during a dedicated panel. The transformative power of education for women was underscored, showcasing inspiring success stories and initiatives led by religious and lay women to improve access to education. This discussion informed productive group sessions focused on devising effective strategies to educate and empower young women in diverse contexts.
The workshop concluded with a reflective session centred on the empowering narrative of Jesus restoring life and dignity to two afflicted women. It served as a poignant reminder of women's ability to inspire and uplift others.
To ensure sustained progress, workshop participants were divided into regional groups, made up of lay and religious women, tasked with devising networking strategies and ensuring continuity beyond the conference. Collaboration opportunities, potential partners, and key areas of action were identified to drive the network's success and achieve its goals on a national and continental scale. Advocacy against gender-based violence and the education of young girls emerged as key priorities, alongside engaging influential government officials and expanding vocational programs to nurture entrepreneurial skills.
Fr. Florence Rutaihwa, Director for Pastoral & Laity at the Tanzanian Episcopal Conference, expressed gratitude to the delegation for selecting Dar es Salaam as the conference venue. He commended the significant strides made during the workshop and spoke of the importance of bridging inequality gaps in pursuit of the mission and goals entrusted to them by Christ.
The African Network Against Violence and Discrimination of Women's workshop in Tanzania proved to be a pivotal event, bringing together passionate individuals and organisations dedicated to addressing gender-based violence. Through in-depth discussions, informative panels, and productive group sessions, the workshop facilitated crucial dialogue, empowered voices, and set the stage for ongoing collaboration in the fight against violence and discrimination of women in Africa.