The Constitution of Tanzania prohibits gender-based discrimination but the country’s legislation has yet to be adjusted to support this principle. In general, legal protection for women remains limited, in part because Tanzania’s judicial authorities take into account both customary and Islamic Sharia laws.
Tanzania is a multicultural society, comprising a variety of ethnic groups and different religions. Traditional views of the role and place of women still dominate, yet married women often face the greatest degree of discrimination. There is some evidence that public debate on these issues is on the rise.
The rights of Tanzanian women within the family are poorly protected. The minimum legal age for marriage is 15 years for women and 18 years for men, but the law allows exceptions for girls aged 14 years under“justifiable” circumstances. The Penal Code permits citizens of African or Asian origin to marry off their daughters younger than 12 years old, provided the marriage is not consummated until the girls reach this age. There is a high incidence of early marriage in Tanzania: a 2004 United Nations report estimated that 25 per cent of girls between 15 and 19 years of age were married, divorced or widowed.
Tanzanian law recognises three types of marriage: monogamous, polygamous and potentially polygamous. Polygamy requires the agreement of the first wife. Almost one-quarter of Tanzanian women live in polygamous marriages.
By law, mothers and fathers in Tanzania have equal rights in regard to parental authority, but many traditional practices discriminate against women. If a couple separates, it is customary for the children to remain with the mother until the age of seven. When deciding which parent should be granted custody, courts are obliged to consider the traditions of the community to which a couple belongs.
In the matter of inheritance, the government and the judicial system recognise customary and Islamic laws, both of which contain provisions that discriminate against women. The Law Reform Commission has drafted amendments to remove discriminatory measures from existing inheritance laws, but the government is not yet ready to implement these amendments.
The physical integrity of Tanzanian women is not sufficiently protected. In fact, the number of complaints filed in relation to violence against women has increased in recent years. Such violence remains very widespread, and the law neither prohibits nor punishes domestic violence. More than half of Tanzanian women are thought to have been beaten by their husbands; many men and women consider such acts legitimate if the husband objects to his wife’s behaviour. A more serious problem is that many women are killed by their husbands or commit suicide after being subjected to domestic violence. The police do not generally intervene in domestic disputes.
In 1998, the government passed a law on sexual assault, which addresses both rape and incest. The law also criminalises spousal rape, but only if the couple is legally separated. Rape is now punishable by life imprisonment or by 30 days in prison with corporal punishment; offenders must also pay financial compensation to their victims. Despite these measures, rape remains a serious problem. More than 10 per cent of Tanzanian women are thought to have suffered a sexual assault, but this figure may be low because very few women register complaints. Large numbers of women in Tanzanian refugee camps have been victims of rape and sexual abuse perpetrated by other refugees.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is common in Tanzania. On a national scale, it is estimated that one in six women have been subjected to the practice but the incidence varies widely from region to region. Circumcision is the most common form of excision, but infibulation (which involves closing the outer lips of the vulva) is also practised, mainly in the northern and central Tanzania. The practice is systematic in some ethnic groups; others groups are believed to prohibit women who have not undergone FGM from marrying.
In 1998, the government passed a law stipulating that anyone found practising FGM on a woman younger than 18 years of age can be given a prison sentence of 5 to 15 years. To date, no such sanctions have been imposed by the courts. According to some sources, the number of Tanzanian women who want FGM to continue is very low.
Tanzania does not appear to be a country of concern in relation to missing women.
The government of Tanzania has taken steps to improve legislation in regard to women’s ownership rights, but restrictive customary laws are still very widespread. The 1999 Land Act gives Tanzanian women the right to obtain access to land, including the right to own, use and sell land. The Village Land Act ensures that women are represented on land allocation committees and land administration councils. Although Tanzania’s Law of Marriage Act grants women certain ownership rights, including access to property other than land, customary and Islamic laws that undermine these rights prevail within the Muslim community.
A 2004 amendment to the Land Act gave Tanzanian women the right to access to bank loans. In addition, a women’s development fund was established in 1993 to facilitate access to commercial loans and encourage women to participate in the economic sector. However, customary practices continue to restrict women’s access to loans and credit.
Tanzanian women’s civil liberties appear to be respected; there are no stated restrictions on their freedom of movement or freedom of dress.
Afrol News (n.d.), Gender Profile: Tanzania, http://www.afrol.com/Categories/Women/profiles/tanzania_women.htm., accessed November 2007
CEDAW (Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women) (1996), Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women: Tanzania, Combined Second and Third Periodic Reports of States Parties, CEDAW/C/TZA/4-6, CEDAW, New York, NY.
CEDAW (2007), Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women: Tanzania, Combined Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Periodic Reports of States Parties, CEDAW/C/TZA/4-6, CEDAW, New York, NY.
DHS (Demographic and Health Surveys) (2005), Demographic and Health Survey 2004, National Bureau of Statistics Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, United Republic of Tanzania and ORC Macro, Calverton, MD, http://www.measuredhs.com/pubs/pub_details.cfm?ID=566&ctry_id=39&SrchTp=ctry&flag=sur.
ECOSOC (United Nations Economic and Social Council) (2003), Integration of the Human Rights of Women and the Gender Perspective: Violence Against Women, E/CN.4/2003/75/Add.1, UN, New York, NY.
Islamic Family Law (n.d.), Legal Profile of Ethiopia, Emory Law School, Atlanta, http://www.law.emory.edu/IFL/, accessed 30 October 2007.
UNIFEM (United Nations Development Fund for Women) (2006), Violence Against Women – Facts and Figures, UNIFEM, New York, NY.
UN (United Nations) (2004), World Fertility Report 2003, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, New York, NY.
US Department of State (2007a), Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Tanzania, US Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Washington, DC.