Janeth Mawinza and Hancy Obote describe themselves as “gender activists,” but they are also educators, paralegals, counsellors, and so much more.
Janeth is the director of WAJIKI — a community non-profit and refuge in Dar es Salaam — which she formally established in 2014 after many years of community work. Through WAJIKI, Janeth and Hancy advocate and fight for justice for survivors of sexual violence.
Advocating for change
“There is just so much to do,” she said. “We identify cases of violence against women and violence against children. We educate the community through meetings and discussions. We bring together stakeholders to change laws and policies for children.”
WAJIKI has worked with the Tanzanian government, UN Women, UNFPA and many other organizations to change community practices and national policies. But they also provide a variety of assistance to individual women and children every day.
On average they work on 10 cases a week and help connect victims to services, provide legal assistance, and follow up on cases with the police and social services. They find victims through their outreach or sometimes victims are referred to them.
Janeth and Hancy mostly deal with cases of sexual violence, and they say that adolescent girls are particularly at risk.
“They feel like it’s a normal part of their lives,” Hancy said.
According to the Tanzania Violence Against Children and Youth Survey, led by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control as part of the Together for Girls partnership, more than one in four girls experience sexual violence before the age of 18. Hancy says this is for a variety of reasons, including cultural traditions, gender inequality, and poverty.
They lead discussions with community leaders on how to best protect children. They also work with children’s clubs in secondary and primary schools to teach children about their rights.
Hancy says it’s also critical to engage men and boys.
“A lot of our campaigns are about protecting women and children, but we don’t have men engaged. If we raise men’s engagement, we will be more successful.”
One way in which they’re doing that is through a partnership with boda boda drivers, who are predominantly male. Boda bodas are bicycle or motorcycle taxis that are a common form of transportation in Dar and throughout East Africa.
“We need their help in identifying victims,” Janeth said. “When we first approached them, the drivers said they didn’t have anything to do with social welfare. Now they go to meetings with other boda boda drivers to talk about violence against children. They know what to look for and what to do if they encounter a victim.”
WAJIKI gives hope to beneficiaries
The impact Janeth and Hancy have on WAJIKI's beneficiaries is huge. One beneficiary, a young domestic worker, had faced horrific abuse by her employer. WAJIKI heard about the case after the girl was hospitalized with a broken arm and a massive head injury.
WAJIKI covered the fees, which she otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford, and took her to the police. Janeth has been accompanying the girl to court, but the process has been slow and frustrating. At one point, the judge dismissed the case and accused the girl of being a liar, despite the extensive physical evidence. But WAJIKI launched an appeal. While the case is ongoing, the girl is living with Janeth, who she calls “Mama Janeth.”
It is incredibly hard work, but Janeth and Hancy don’t plan on stopping any time soon.
“My dream for these children is for them to reach their own dreams according to their own desires.”
“My request is that we reach more girls all over Tanzania. They need to know that there is a safe space to talk. We’re here.”
“My salon is famous within the community. People are brought to me even if I don’t know them because they know that I am a champion for the victims of sexual violence.”
“Children’s issues are not a single person’s responsibility, we all must work in cooperation for the benefit of the child."
“With the one stop center, more victims get the services they need on time, right away."
"I started working in violence prevention because I believe that children need to be well-protected to ensure that they can grow and develop."
This story was created as part of the Together for Girl's partnership's trip to Tanzania. Special thanks to the Impact and Innovation Development Centre.