Putting Women’s Health in the Spotlight

When Mackrine Rumanyika, Executive Director of a health advocacy organization focused on Tanzania’s Maasai community, was invited to Dar es Salaam to a gender-themed roundtable discussion by Internews in Tanzania, little did she know that her presentation would be a spark that would light a big fire.

In January, Internews organized a roundtable event for media and to discuss gender issues, and in particular, ways in which the media and civil society could collaborate to address female genital mutilation (FGM) and other forms of gender-based violence.

3 women in traditional dress stand with a man who holds a clipboard
Nanginyi Nalepo and  Elizabeth Jama Laizer, in traditional Maasai dress, speak with journalist Theodatus Muchunguzi, of Nipashe newspaper, at right, and Shifa Hassan from the Media Council of Tanzania, at the Internews roundtable in Dar es Salaam.

Mackrine gave a powerful presentation on the state of the health of Maasai women, citing FGM to be a leading cause of gender-based violence in the community, inflicting serious physical and psychological suffering.

“FGM renders a woman disabled physically and mentally: she can’t enjoy sex anymore, during delivery she may develop serious complications which can lead to death,” stated Mackarine during the roundtable.

Elizabeth Jama Laizer, who escaped FGM as a child, told roundtable participants how her father chased her and her mother away after she refused to undergo FGM, which in the Maasai community still remains an important rite of passage before marriage.

Elizabeth was forced to live in hiding to finish her education. Her father would not give up and tried to trap her and have her undergo FGM and marry an older man from whom he had already taken a number of cows as dowry. Today, Elizabeth is a certified kindergarten teacher works with Mackrine’s organization, Health Integrated Multi Sectoral Services (HIMS), as a peer educator.

“I will choose a man to marry and not the one forced on me by my father,” Elizabeth stated.

Besides senior journalists and editors from different media outlets, the roundtable brought together CSO and donor representatives as well as more than 70 members of the Maasai community living in the city.

Displaying the tools recovered during HIMS’ campaign to stop FGM in Tanzania, Mackrine touted success in convincing more than 160 female practitioners of FGM to abandon the practice, in exchange for sheep – a practical and effective swap that helps them to earn a different living and to upgrade their social status in a culture where men dominate livestock ownership. Some of these former FGM practitioners have now joined her organization’s campaign, after becoming aware of the adverse effects of FGM on the health of a woman.

“After the education from HIMS and seeing the blood of those who have been cut, I decided to stop the practice,” said Nanginyi Nalepo, a former assistant circumciser, during the roundtable.

Participants at the roundtable agreed that although Tanzanian media has covered the issue of FGM for a long time, more media intervention is needed. The roundtable therefore was an opportunity to create further awareness and social change around the issue.

According to Mackrine, the roundtable achieved just that: before, HIMS and its work was hardly known outside Arusha. “Following the coverage of the roundtable meeting, more than ten media outlets and other partner organizations have approached me for interviews and collaborations,” stated Mackrine.

Saruni Muriatoi Laiza, a community leader of the Maasai community in Dar es Salaam, said most of the members of his community who participated in the Internews event would like HIMS to conduct more awareness campaigns in their villages.

“Internews has created new opportunities for us to scale up our work. The demand to offer awareness training is higher than our limited resources can cope with,” Mackrine stated, adding that following the roundtable, HIMS had been approached by World Vision Tanzania and Embudeo, a Maasai community in Ngorongoro, with requests to organize FGM awareness campaigns.

On International Women’s Day on March 8, this year, HIMS was among 30 organizations invited by a Maasai non-governmental organization, SIDAI, to present a paper on the health effects of FGM to a group of 70 Maasai women. She attributes this to the publicity she got after facilitating the Internews roundtable.

At the close of the roundtable focused on gender-based violence and women’s health, members of the Maasai community in attendance performed a traditional dance.

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Internews’ five-year, USAID-funded ‘Boresha Habari’ project works to strengthen the professionalism and skills of media outlets and civil society organizations (CSOs) across Tanzania and to provide opportunities for Tanzanian media to engage and collaborate with CSOs. Internews’ project also aims to support Tanzanian media and CSOs to create greater awareness of women and youth issues locally, nationally and internationally. Story by Alakok Mayombo, Senior Journalism Trainer and Wenceslaus Mushi, Media and Communications Director, Internews in Tanzania.

(Banner photo: Internews ‘Boresha Habari’ project brings together media and the Maasai in Dar es Salaam. Credit Victoria Rowan/Internews)