Tanzanian Women Traders Fight Gender Abuse in the Market Place

In Dar es Salaam, a local charity is raising women traders’ awareness of their rights and helping survivors of abuse and assault bring the perpetrators to justice. Founder Jane Magigita says the scheme has led to a large decline in sexual violence in the city’s markets.

Written by Kizito Makoye Shigela Published on Read time Approx. 4 minutes
Women vendors at Temeke Stereo Market in Dar es Salaam, where the chairty Equality for Growth is empowering women to combat sexual abuse and assault so they can feel safe at their work. Photo: Kizito Makoye Shigela

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania – It’s around noon at Temeke Stereo Market in Tanzania’s largest city, and Katarina Matiko is busy frying fish to serve with rice, beans, beef stew and vegetables to her waiting customers. She briskly squeezes over some lemon, sprinkles on some salt and garlic, then tosses the fish in hot oil, causing a cloud of aromatic steam to waft into the air.

The 31-year-old mother of four has been working as a street cook for four years and in that time, like many of her fellow women market vendors, she has repeatedly experienced verbal abuse and physical assaults at the hands of male customers.

“A customer may touch your breasts. If you push him away, he yells verbal insults,” says Matiko, who works seven hours a day, earning about 50,000 Tanzanian shillings ($22). “It’s very hard to deal with some men, who simply come and insult you for no reason.”

For most women traders and food vendors in the markets of Dar es Salaam, being subjected to gender-based violence is a daily occurrence. The fear and stress of being targeted can make it difficult for women to earn a living, hindering their economic potential. And the problem is rife throughout Tanzania’s informal sector. But due to the unregulated nature of the sector, low awareness of women’s rights in general and a lack of reporting mechanisms, most survivors of abuse in the workplace have no idea where to turn for help and rarely get justice.

Now a local charity is trying to stop the abuse by arming women vendors in Dar es Salaam with the knowledge and skills they need to defend themselves against abuse and protect their livelihoods. Equality for Growth (EfG) has launched a project called “Give Payment Not Abuse,” backed by the United Nations Trust Fund, that is helping to create a safer working environment for thousands of women market traders in the city.

Under the initiative, the charity has trained dozens of legal community supporters to raise awareness of women’s rights in Dar es Salaam markets and help survivors of abuse and assault report incidents to the police.

Matiko says she didn’t know anything about women’s rights until she joined the project in 2016 as a legal community supporter. Now she knows how to stop abuse in its tracks.

Know Where to Turn

EfG says it aims to increase the incomes of women market traders and reduce household poverty by giving women access to legal and human rights education and business opportunities. To do that, it uses guidelines for ending gender-based violence in public and in workplaces that it developed in conjunction with the police’s Gender and Children desk.

A survey conducted by the charity in 2009 in several markets in Dar es Salaam showed about 40 percent of women traders had been publicly humiliated by some form of sexual harassment, 32 percent had been verbally abused and 24 percent had experienced other forms of violence from male traders and customers. There hasn’t been any recent study with comparative data.

When EfG launched its initiative in 2015, project manager Susan Sitta says the need for the training was clear. “Initially a huge number of women were unaware of their rights. They were verbally abused and sexually assaulted, yet they did not even know where to report such crimes.”

Under the initiative, EfG is striving to build the capacity of market leaders, law enforcers and traders to address gender violence – by raising public awareness and providing special training on how to physically and verbally confront perpetrators of sexual assault. Apart from training legal community supporters who work under the market committees – groups of market leaders elected among the traders – the organization also directly instructs women vendors in how to protect themselves from abuse and where to report offenses.

“When someone’s insulted or sexually assaulted, we team up to assist her to ensure that whoever is behind it is brought before the market committee where they face charges and are held accountable for their abuses,” says Matiko, who is among 12 community supporters at the Temeke Market trained by EfG.

Working Together for Justice

Sitta says EfG’s project has directly reached more than 35,000 informal women traders, including 1,600 who work as market traders.

Consolata Cleophas, who works as a market trader at Mchikichini Market selling vegetables, tomatoes, potatoes and other agricultural products, has received training and become a legal community supporter.

“Women are a powerful engine of the economy. Creating a better working environment not only motivates them to work harder, but also increases their self-confidence,” she says.

EfG is already seeing a huge fall in the number of violent incidents involving women vendors in Dar es Salaam’s markets, according to executive director and founder Jane Magigita. “Market cooks are getting paid on time, and traders work freely without facing any sexual humiliation,” she says.

For many women market traders across the country, going to work every day still means facing humiliation, verbal abuse and sexual violence. But at Temeke Market, women are proud that they can now take action against perpetrators of violence with the help of community supporters.

Matiko recalls a recent incident in which a male trader was accused of sexually assaulting a female customer. Before the EfG training, the perpetrator would likely have faced no consequences, leaving the victim feeling powerless. But this time all the women working in the market came together to ensure the male trader was brought to justice.

They worked with one another to bring the perpetrator before the local market committee, where he was held accountable for his abuse. The committee convinced the victim to report the matter to the police gender desk.

“We all supported our fellow woman. The abuser was arrested and charged with indecent assault,” says Matiko. She says he has now been banned from engaging in any business activities at the market.

“This is a lesson to other men,” Matiko says. “We will never again tolerate such behavior.”

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