VIOLENCE against women is partly to blame for the social and economical challenges facing the islands of Zanzibar, with gender activists saying means to remove this obstacle to the island's development is readily available.
Ms Rehema Mwateba, an activist, says that violence against women should not be ignored as it has direct or indirect links to social, political, and economical development of the Muslim dominated islands of Zanzibar.
"The four main types of violence against women, i.e. physical, psychological, economical, and sexual are all connected to the development of the country as majority women remain key contributors to the development," Mwateba said.
In a recent discussion with reporters on Gender Based Violence (GBV) in Zanzibar, the gender activist said the abuse of women's rights has a negative impact on individual, family and national development.
"Spare a thought, when a woman is beaten and injured, raped, depressed, or suppressed economically, can she produce? This means social and economic down turn, and fortunately, not many analysts argue along these points," Mwateba said.
The lively discussion between gender activists and reporters was organized by the Tanzania Media Women Association (TAMWA) as part of the global annual 16 days of activism against GBV.
The reporters workshop held at TAMWA offices in Mombasa area, Zanzibar municipality, was also a training opportunity for journalists where they were presented with a manual on how to improve reporting GBV stories.
The reporters were from both Unguja and Pemba Islands. Mwateba said in her topic entitled 'conceptualization of gender and GBV perspectives' that many cases of violence against women are unreported "because reporters and the media lack skills, not priority, and also members of the society including the victims still hide the immoral acts."
Ms Halima Masheko, an officer from the ministry responsible for Youths, Children, Women, and Social Welfare, said her ministry has been running programmes aiming at educating the general public on gender based violence in Zanzibar.
"Plans to have more 'one-stop-centers' in different parts of Zanzibar will definitely help in the fight against GBV. However, more awareness through media is required," said Masheko. One-stop centre are centres established recently to provide quick legal, counselling, and health care to victims of violence.
However, Masheko admitted that despite increased awareness, women in Zanzibar continue to experience violence, and that shortage of staff with skills on handling GBV cases is a challenge. She said that Zanzibar is a small country with an estimated population of about 1.2 million people, but it is sad to note that acts of gender based violence persist and many women in both urban and rural areas fall victim.
However, she said that there is need to improve recording of data to avoid duplication, and "eye witnesses in courts on cases concerning GBV should change. Sometimes perpetrators walk out freely just because procedures are complicated."
TAMWA's Programmes Facilitating Officer Ms Asha Abdi pointed out that for better reporting, reporters need to remind themselves about local, regional, and international laws and conventions, and congress resolutions that promote women rights.
Ms Asha said that violation of women rights are still rampant and that concerted efforts in promoting local, international laws and treaties including the Convention for the Elimination of All forms of Violence against Women (CEDAW), the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People's Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa and the Convention on the Rights of the Child are required.
Ms Mzuri Issa, TAMWA coordinator Zanzibar emphasizes that physical, sexual and psychological violence against women have profound implications for a woman's health and empowerment. "A battered woman who has suffered bodily harm cannot participate in various activities, and a raped young girl or a young girl who is forced to marry an older man will be faced with continuous distress which may impede her opportunities for development," she said.
Mzuri said that the media, NGOs, the government and other institutions all have a big role to play in preventing violence against women. She said government's pledge to enforce laws against gender-based violence was good and shows commitment by the authorities in addressing abuse against women, which tarnishes the image of the people of Zanzibar.
TAMWA's findings show increasing reports of violence involved men who continue beating their wives, and that this unacceptable habit must be stopped by enforcement of the laws and exposing bad practices against women.
The activists say that masculine dominance in decision making groups, in families, and traditions that defend gender-based violence should be stopped alongside encouraging women and girls to report crimes committed against them to the police and court. They called on women to consider reporting any abuse on them to the media and relevant authorities, such as law enforcement agents in their area.
TAMWA is working with UNFPA to strengthen informed reporting on gender, also through the production of media tools for effective gender reporting. The organizations believe that with improved reporting GBV can be minimized.
At the end of the workshop, reporters resolved to increase their coverage on GBV, but emphasized on the need to networking, asking news sources and victims to be transparent "so we can address the real issues and come up with better ways to curb violence."
"Let us not tolerate any abuse and let us work towards ending the social menace. The 16 days of activism has offered us an opportunity to renew our commitment to a gender-based violence free environment," said Rahma Suleiman from Chuchu FM radio.
Different reports have indicated that violence still remains a major problem in Zanzibar, and some of the hindrances to progress against gender-based violence are some cultural and social practices that include workplace sexual harassment, economic disempowerment, cultural practices and the code of silence, where women are too embarrassed to speak out.