Domestic violence a serious concern - WHO

Tanzania is one of several low-income countries with a high rate of domestic violence, according to a recent study by the World Health Organization (WHO) on women's health and domestic violence against women.

The WHO study, launched on Wednesday in Tanzania's commercial capital Dar es Salaam by Sofia Simba, the minister for community development, gender and children, said 30 percent of victims of violence in the east African country ended up with serious injuries due to severe beating.

Halima Mikidadi, 42 and a resident of Dar es Salaam, is one such case. "I was beaten by a man with whom I was living and had a child with," she said. "It was some 15 years ago. He used a stick to beat me and broke my kneecap. I had to undergo an operation to insert a plate in my knee. I have never recovered because the injured left leg is now shorter. The man was never taken to court. After some years our relationship ended, and he is now married to another woman. I have left it all to God."

Ananilea Nkya, the executive director of Tanzania Media Women's Association, said on Thursday the report would help to highlight the plight of women in low-income countries. "Domestic violence is rampant for various reasons, including patriarchal and cultural beliefs as well as practices that degrade women," Nkya said. "A man can do anything against a woman simply because he had paid dowry."

The association has a legal aid project for abused women. "We have helped hundreds get legal redress," Nkya said.

In compiling its report, WHO conducted surveys in Bangladesh, Brazil, Ethiopia, Japan, Namibia, Peru, Samoa, Serbia and Montenegro, Tanzania and Thailand. The Tanzania survey involved 1,820 respondents in Dar es Salaam and 1,450 from Mbeya region. "Of those beaten, more than 20 percent in Mbeya and 15 percent in Dar es Salaam had lost consciousness," Simba said, quoting the report.

Women in Tanzania, as well in the other countries covered by the study, reported being punched, kicked, dragged, choked, intentionally burned and, in some of the worst cases of sexual violence, threatened with weapons. Those who experienced physical or sexual violence faced several health problems, including pain, difficulty in walking and carrying out daily activities, dizziness and erratic memory.

The study also revealed that 7 percent of the women were beaten by their partners while pregnant. In Dar es Salaam, 38 percent of those beaten while pregnant reported being punched or kicked in the abdomen. In Mbeya, these figures were 12 percent and 23 percent, respectively.

About one-quarter of the women interviewed in Tanzania had also been subjected to non-partner physical violence from the age of 15 years, the main perpetrators being teachers, who were mentioned by more than half of all women who reported physical abuse. The study also found that one in 10 women had experienced sexual violence by a non-partner since the age of 15, with boyfriends and strangers being the most frequently mentioned perpetrators. About one out of 10 respondents reported sexual abuse before age 15.

Many of the women who participated in the study believed that a husband has a right to beat his wife under certain circumstances, ranging from not adequately completing housework to refusing sex, being disobedient and being unfaithful.