A rampant contemporary concern within our global society, which dangerously subjugates girls and women, is gender-based violence. When one contemplates gender-based violence, often what comes to mind are horrendous overt acts such as rape, intimate partner abuse, forced sterilization, female genital mutilation, child marriage, the trafficking of young girls and women into the sex slave industry, and other countless forms physical, sexual, and economic violence. These examples are considered direct forms of gender-based violence, but there are also indirect forms of violence that too many of our young girls and women are subjected to on a daily basis. Indirect violence is recognized as institutional or structural violence in the form of systemic inequality, discrimination and marginalization that ensures women remain in a subordinate position, whether physically or ideologically, to other people within their families, households, or communities. While gender-based violence is a clear product of the gendered, heteronormative patriarchal global society, variations of violence differ depending on where on our globe women are born.
As someone born in Canada, I have had the opportunity to witness how gender-based violence can differ around the planet. I would like to focus now on my experiences in the country of Tanzania. Not only is Tanzania well known for being the home of tallest mountain in all of Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro, it also has breathtakingly beautiful wildlife that can be found in multiple national parks, such as Ngorongoro crater and the Serengeti to name a few. However, I returned for the people. When speaking with people in the local villages I have been fortunate enough to visit, many have openly shared with me an emotional depth that I truly believe is rooted within living a life of hardship and oppression. As I get to know the locals and converse with both women and men, I find that there is rarely small talk, rather we discuss life in its deepest form. The people I have met are courageously open about their lived experiences of struggle, discrimination, and oppression, and optimistically, our connectedness; our connectedness to each other as human beings, to nature, and the universe. With every encounter, these topics are explored in such depth that it never ceases to amaze me. It is this connection that I believe our global civilization lacks and desperately needs in order to step up and do something about the suffering of our brothers and sisters that inhabit this planet.
During my time here in Moshi, Tanzania, I have chosen for a second time to volunteer at a remarkable local NGO, called Give a Heart to Africa. Founded by a forward thinking and determined Czech-Canadian woman Monika Fox and managed locally by the hardworking and dedicated Rhiannon Chainey, this organization focuses on empowering Tanzanian women through education. Our mission is to offer valuable free English, business, maths, and vocational training for one full year. The goal is to equip the students with the skills to gain more lucrative employment, which in turn provides them with the opportunity to send their children to school, educate their spouses and extended family, as well as have a direct impact on their community at large. Give A Heart To Africa is a grassroots, hands-on organization that has a tangible impact on people’s lives, and the future generations of Tanzanian women, by demonstrating for their female children higher expectations of what they can achieve in life.
The women in the program are chosen based on a lack of opportunity to gain an education. This lack of opportunity to seek education is an example of what institutional gender-based violence in the form of structural inequality can look like. While the majority of the women are literate, many have only completed primary school (up to grade 6). One-third of the class of 2017 is made up of women who have had between two to four years of secondary education, but no certificate of completion. The women are between 25 and 40 years of age, and many either live in large families with older brothers who are educated, or are single mothers, divorced, or whose husbands have limited education themselves. In our eyes, all the students are success stories, because education leads to empowerment, which is one of the best ways to address the very real problems created by indirect gender-based violence. Whether her education leads to personal empowerment, or the empowerment of her child, her immediate family unit, or her community, we recognize that education opens the door to a new mind and a new life.
There have been many student success stories since classes began in 2009. For example, our former graduate Beatrice from the 2013-2014 school year who, along with two other graduates, Lusarie and Prisilla, own and operate a co-operative program affiliated with Give a Heart to Africa. The co-operative is a jointly owned enterprise located in downtown Moshi and is aptly named Moshi Mamas. The Mamas specialize in creating stunning handmade bead work gifts such as necklaces, bracelets, rings, bowls and dishes, as well as other items (scarves, bags, aprons, clothing) made from African and batik fabrics. The shop was established in the beginning of the year 2014 and continues to be a great success to this day. Beatrice came to Give a Heart to Africa because she wanted to study and gain a solid education in order to leave a life of poverty behind her. Her goals were to learn and maintain English speaking skills, learn about business, and train in vocations to be able to pay for the school fees of her five children. In keeping with the theme of female empowerment, this year I have the privilege of teaching her eldest daughter Janeth who, like her mother is an intelligent, open minded, and unstoppable student. Janet is currently employed at another former graduate, Lisa’s, place of business called Lala Salama Spa, located two doors down from Moshi Mamas.
Volunteering with Give a Heart to Africa has been one of the most eye opening experiences of my life and I will forever be grateful to all of the people I have shared a connection with. It has given me the opportunity to witness the way indirect forms of gender-based violence operate in different areas around the planet, but more importantly, it has proven true that we can tackle and dismantle these issues when we work together to create the opportunity to do so. I know that we are capable of changing the global narrative about women and our place in society, which in turn empowers me, and encourages me to continue to move forward towards progress.