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TANZANIA: Australian women’s rights activist faces charges

Supporters says charges against Zara Kay, who has had her passport confiscated, are ‘politically motivated’.

 

By Daniel Hurst

 

The Guardian (03.01.2021) – https://bit.ly/393rFK8 – An Australian ex-Muslim women’s rights activist faces “politically motivated” charges in Tanzania, including for a tweet allegedly critical of the country’s president, according to her supporters.

 

The Australian government is providing consular assistance to Zara Kay, 28, the founder of Faithless Hijabi, a group set up two years ago to support women who are ostracised or face violence if they leave or question Islam.

 

Kay tweeted on 28 December she was “going into the police station because someone reported me in for blasphemy” and a few days later told her supporters she was out on bail but “still quite traumatised from everything”.

 

“Please don’t stop fighting for me,” she wrote. “They can try shaking me, but they won’t break me.”

 

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said on Sunday it was “providing consular assistance to an Australian in Tanzania”. But a spokesperson said Dfat would not provide further comment “owing to our privacy obligations”.

 

The case was first reported by the ABC on Sunday.

 

The International Coalition of Ex-Muslims issued a statement saying Kay had been held in police custody for 32 hours from 28 December “without an initial clear indication of charges” and had her passport confiscated.

 

It said she would be required to return the police station in Dar es Salaam, the administrative capital, on Tuesday.

 

According to the statement, the charges relate to three issues, including “a social media post deemed to be critical of the president of Tanzania” over the handling of Covid-19 in the east African country.

 

The International Coalition of Ex-Muslims said Kay was also accused of not returning her Tanzanian passport after gaining Australian citizenship, but added that “she never returned her Tanzanian passport as she misplaced and never used it after gaining Australian citizenship”.

 

The coalition said the final issue was the use of a mobile sim card registered in a family member’s name rather than her own name, under legislation that the group said “has been used to persecute other high-profile cases”.

 

“We believe these charges are politically motivated,” the coalition said.

 

“The International Coalition of Ex-Muslims reiterates its call on the Tanzanian government to immediately drop all the charges against Zara Kay and allow her to leave the country … We also call on the Australian authorities to intervene and get Zara home to safety.”

 

Kay, who was raised a Shia Muslim in Tanzania, told the Australian newspaper in 2019 that she had been forced to wear the hijab from the age of eight but took it off when she moved to Australia to study in her late teens.

 

She has renounced Islam and campaigns to help people who struggle when they similarly leave the faith. Kay has held speaking events in Australia on the topic: “Losing your religion can be hard, and for some, it can be fatal”.

 

Christians comprise about 61% of Tanzania’s population of 59 million people, while Muslims represent about 35%, according to past estimates, and it does not have blasphemy laws. The Australian newspaper reports that Kay faces sedition charges.

 

It is understood the types of assistance provided by Australian consular staff can include visiting prisons to monitor welfare, checking with local authorities about the Australian’s wellbeing, and providing contact details for local lawyers.

 

But consular staff typically notify Australians in trouble overseas that they cannot provide direct legal advice, intervene in legal cases or get Australians out of prison.

Photo: Dfat is giving consular assistance to Zara Kay, an Australian women’s rights activist in Tanzania. Her supporters say she is facing three charges, including one relating to a social media post allegedly critical of the president. Credit: CEMB.





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TANZANIA: Witchcraft accusations and cataracts

By Rumbi Chakamba

 

Devex (17.11.2020) – https://bit.ly/2J7if7l – Three years ago, 66-year-old Christine Chizimu woke up to find a dead snake in front of her house in Kihumulo village in northwestern Tanzania. Soon afterward, her brothers accused her of being a witch, causing her to believe it was all orchestrated by her family in a bid to run her out of the village and grab her land. But she said many people in the community were quick to believe these accusations because of her appearance.

 

Chizimu, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, has a full head of gray hair and bloodshot eyes. She said that at the time of the accusations, she could not see properly and would often stumble as she was walking or ask those she was speaking to to move closer so that she could recognize them.

 

“Many of the children in the village were already afraid of me, and they would say I am a witch and run away from me. When a family member came forward and accused me of witchcraft, many began to believe this as it was coming from within my family,” she said.

 

Though activists for the rights of older adults have largely succeeded in educating communities that symptoms — such as bloodshot eyes — are caused by smoke from cooking and not a sign that someone is a witch, emerging research has shown that the negative effects of smoke on the eyes may go beyond these traditional beliefs.

 

Household air pollution has been identified as a risk factor for cataracts, the number one cause of blindness in low- and middle-income countries. Experts have called for improved access to modern energy cooking services to counter this and meet the clean-cooking target under Sustainable Development Goal 7.

 

Witchcraft in Tanzania

 

Although both witchcraft and accusing someone of practicing witchcraft are illegal in Tanzania, a Pew Research Center poll conducted in 2010 showed that more than 90% of Christians and Muslims, who make up nearly 97% of the population, believe in witchcraft.

 

According to HelpAge Tanzania, older women like Chizimu are often the targets of witchcraft accusations. Such accusations can lead to abuse from their families and community members and, in some cases, murder. In 2013, 765 older people were reported to have been murdered as a result of witchcraft accusations; two-thirds of these were women.

 

Joseph Mbasha, program manager at HelpAge Tanzania, said that most of these issues arose from perceptions and little understanding. In some areas, women were considered to be witches if they had bloodshot eyes, despite the fact that they spend a lot of time cooking using firewood or cow dung, which affects the eyes.

 

In response, the NGO, along with other civil society organizations and the government, initiated national awareness and sensitization training sessions with community members in various groups. Between 2014 and 2018, HelpAge Tanzania trained over 160,000 people in its project catchment area in the Lake Zone regions of Shinyanga, Mwanza, Simiyu, and Geita.

 

“The situation has really calmed down. It has almost normalized. We are now receiving very few cases of witchcraft killings. For the last year overall countrywide, we had 11 cases that were reported. In the previous year, we had 29, and the year before was 56, so it is really lowering down,” Mbasha said.

 

Possible links to cataracts

 

When accusations were leveled against Chizimu, she approached Kwa Wazee, a local NGO that focuses on the rights of older adults. It assisted her in reporting the case to the community leader, who intervened on her behalf.

 

Last year, the organization also referred Chizimu to a mobile eye screening clinic, where she was found to have cataracts in both her eyes. She has since had cataract removal surgery on her left eye, with a recommendation to also have the procedure for her right eye.

 

According to Edimund Revelian, program officer at Kwa Wazee, many of the women that the organization has assisted with witchcraft accusations and other problems have also needed cataract removal surgery.

 

“Most of them had cataracts. And normally when they go to the hospital, they are advised not to stay in a place with a lot of smoke, as this can affect their eyesight,” he said.

 

A 2013 research paper found strong evidence to suggest that there is an association between solid household fuel use and cataracts in LMICs. Researchers concluded that “given the high burden associated with these conditions, the widespread use of solid fuels for cooking, and the plausibility of associations, appropriate investigations are needed.”

 

A separate study that compared self-reported eye and respiratory symptoms among women who used wood as fuel with those who used natural gas in southern Pakistan also found that overall eye and respiratory symptoms were significantly associated with wood use in this setting.

 

The cost of household air pollution

 

A report from the World Bank estimated that 4 billion people — around 50% of the world’s population — still lack access to clean, efficient, convenient, safe, reliable, and affordable cooking energy. In sub-Saharan Africa, the rate of access to modern energy cooking services, or MECS, stands at only 10%.

 

Writing to Devex, a spokesperson for the World Bank said that “women bear a disproportionate share of the negative health risks from household air pollution, as well as the time poverty associated with traditional household cooking, leading to opportunity costs,” because in most lower-income countries, women like Chizimu have the primary responsibility for household cooking and rely on polluting stoves and fuels.

 

Though it is difficult to determine the direct cost of the negative effects of household air pollution on the eyes, the bank’s report estimated that failure to meet the clean cooking target under SDG 7 would cost the world $2.4 trillion per year through the negative impacts for health, gender, and climate. The health impact alone was estimated to be $1.4 trillion per year.

 

Finding solutions

 

To counter this, the World Bank spokesperson noted that there is a need to improve the overall cooking energy ecosystem by adopting several priority actions. These include creating high-profile coalitions to prioritize access to MECS in global and national arenas, ensuring that cooking energy is incorporated into national energy plans and development strategies, and dramatically scaling up financing.

 

“Progress toward universal access to MECS has been hindered by a lack of interventions and solutions that are fully responsive to the underlying needs of lower-income and rural households. In many countries, this situation is driven by a combination of higher up-front capital costs, low household awareness, and low availability of fuels, owing, in part, to underdeveloped infrastructure,” the spokesperson said.

 

In response to these challenges, SNV Tanzania has introduced an affordable solution to clean cooking. In 2013, the nonprofit development organization introduced affordable improved cooking stoves to the market through a project supported by the Energising Development program.

 

Hassan Bussiga, project manager at SNV Tanzania, said that through the project, training has been provided to over 100 people across 10 regions and 36 districts in Tanzania to produce improved cooking stoves known as matawi. Available in ceramic and metal versions, the stoves are dual fuel, able to use charcoal and firewood. Their prices range from roughly $2 to $12, depending on the size and material used, Bussiga said.

 

“They have been designed to ensure that they are using very little firewood and charcoal, and the rate of emission is also reduced significantly. … We also encourage users to use dry firewood, as it produces less emissions,” he added.

 

Though Chizimu has not been able to purchase a clean cooking solution, she said she too has started to use dry firewood for her cooking, as she was advised that it produces less smoke and will cause less damage to her eyes.





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World Bank: Tanzania loan should promote all girls’ education

New Q&A on discrimination against pregnant students, young mothers.

 

HRW (24.04.2020) – https://bit.ly/2Sd8WUM – The World Bank should work with the Tanzanian government to ensure that all pregnant girls and adolescent mothers can attend public schools, Human Rights Watch said in a question and answer document released today. The World Bank should not disburse the initial tranches of an education 19901990 loan to Tanzania planned for 2021 until the government guarantees equal access to free and compulsory primary education and equal access to secondary education for all girls.

 

On March 31, 2020, the World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors approved a US$500 million loan to Tanzania for its secondary education program. In doing so, the World Bank ignored a government policy, supported by President John Magufuli, which prevents pregnant students and adolescent mothers from attending the country’s regular public schools. The World Bank has issued inaccurate information that dismisses the existence of this policy and disregarded the findings of nongovernmental groups that have documented the harm it causes.

 

“The World Bank, Tanzania’s largest multilateral donor, is in a great position to help ensure that every girl in Tanzania gets education without discrimination,” said Agnes Odhiambo, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The World Bank should ensure that its investments improve, not undermine, the human rights of all Tanzanian girls.”

 

In approving the loan, the World Bank did not address the concerns about the ban, leaving questions about its commitment to work to end this policy, Human Rights Watch said.

 

On April 6, Tanzania’s Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology issued a statement about the World Bank loan and said that its Secondary Education Quality Improvement Program (SEQUIP) would be carried out “without discrimination and shall include girls who drop out of school for various reasons, including pregnancy.” However, the ministry did not state that pregnant girls could return to regular public schools.

 

SEQUIP allows girls to study in so-called “alternative education pathways,” or parallel education centers, which the World Bank has characterized as a viable secondary school alternative. But the program faces challenges around low quality of education and access even for those who were trying get into them and is fee-based.

 

The Tanzania government should immediately end the school ban. President Magufuli should publicly retract his destructive comments against allowing pregnant girls to stay in school and direct his government to adopt a human rights-compliant policy to support all pregnant girls to go to school.

 

The World Bank should ensure that pregnant girls and adolescent mothers are not forced to choose a parallel, inferior education system. They should ensure that every girl is included in the formal education system. Girls should have the option to attend public primary and secondary schools or alternative learning pathways such as SEQUIP, if they choose, when they have been out of school for long periods.

 

“By approving this loan, the World Bank has endorsed inadequate measures, such as inferior parallel education options, that discriminate against girls and support abusive government policies,” Odhiambo said. “The World Bank should examine the evidence and listen to the many voices saying that while it is important to expand secondary education in Tanzania, it should not be at the expense of girls’ futures.”


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