Justice for Mama Diliu on International Women’s Day
Today is my 55th day in Tanzania. I moved to Dar es Salaam from Kenya, where I worked with the HelpAge Africa Regional office for over a decade.
I have received a warm welcome from all corners. Smiling faces greeting me with a friendly "Karibu" are a daily encounter at the office, mall or a stall at the local market.
Vulnerabilities of older woman
As I look back over the past weeks, the story of Mama Diliu Nduluma has been my biggest source of inspiration. As we approach International Women's Day, it is an opportunity to pay tribute to women like Mama Diliu who suffer as a result of being older and women.
Diliu, 76, lives in Kahama District. She was accused of practising witchcraft and had her arms severed by her assailants. She said: "I am grateful I survived, by the grace of God."
Her attackers waited for her husband to leave and then stormed into her house. The question lingering on her mind is whether they will ever face justice. She knows that they were arrested by the police but nothing else.
Mama Diliu's case shows how older people, often older women are victimised and sometimes accused of witchcraft. According to Prime Minister Pinda's speech in 2009, 2,866 older people were murdered because of witchcraft allegations over a period of five years. That is an average of 573 a year.
The data for Kahama district, where Mama Diliu lives, shows 149 killings between the years 2007 and 2011. Even as I write this blog, three older people's deaths have been reported in Mpanda district because of witchcraft allegations.
Raising awareness and community interventions
HelpAge is working in the community with its local partner, Service Health and Development for People Living Positively with HIV and AIDS -Bukombe (SHIDEPA+). An important part of our work is increasing awareness within communities of older people's rights and specifically those of older widows.
Practical interventions through paralegals are also a major aspect of our work. Paralegals play an important role in the community as they can track and collect information on violence against older people. They then generate evidence that will inform policy makers at local and central government levels.
The result of the community interventions is clear in areas where HelpAge and its partners are working. Between 2009 and 2011, not a single witchcraft crime against older people took place in the eight villages where HelpAge is working.
Demanding action against perpetrators
HelpAge and its partners' efforts have led to the formation of a task force made up of the police, military, justice and the attorney general's office. This task force will promote the rights of older people and help them seek justice.
To increase the task force's effectiveness, we held a national meeting which brought together the task force, older people's organisations and other stakeholders. As a result, a new multi-stakeholder task force to demand stricter legal action against perpetrators was formed and will be chaired by the Director of Public Prosecution.
Success at the community level is important, but real change will come when national laws ensure perpetrators who harm older people face legal action and victims receive protection and justice.
Global efforts need to continue
At the last Open Ended Working Group on Ageing meeting held in August 2011 in New York, a moving presentation by Teresa Minji from Tanzania sparked recommendations of a convention on the rights of older people.
I hope the next OEWG meeting will see increased attendance and commitment from African governments and a real change will take place to bring an end to the violation of older women's rights. Then older women like Mama Diliu can live with security and dignity.
Read more about what we are doing to help older people accused of witchcraft in Tanzania.