To add to the East African blogs, I could not finish it without creating a special place here for a wonderful woman I met from Tanzania; You know when you meet someone and you know they don’t really know just how amazing they really are? Well, meet Susan Masanja…
After meeting Tinga from KeNPUD, I met Susan from its’ sister network TaNPUD in Tanzania. Susan willingly gave me her time – in just the 15 short minutes we grabbed together before she got the bus back to the airport,-but Susan managed to get to the point in such a poignant way, I was left thinking about her all afternoon. In this short space of time, Susan managed to express clearly the situation for women sex workers in Tanzania and she left a big impression on me because of her honesty, her natural grace and this quiet inner strength she just naturally exuded. And, that indefinable something that some women have, you can feel it -when you know they have seen humanity at its worst.
We sat close together on the kerbside as I took notes, and she spoke in a lowered but serious tone about the terrible circumstances Tanzanian women are facing, every day of their lives and how women’s liberation; real equality of the sexes holds the key to the HIV and sexual health response.
Mother to child transmission is estimated to account for about 18% of new infections. And about 1.8% of 15 to 24 year olds who reported that they never had sex were found to be HIV positive. This suggests that they were possibly infected through blood transfusion, unsafe injections or traditional practices, including male circumcision and the terrible practice of female genital mutilation. (source Ministry of Health & Social Welfare, Tanzania, 2008)
With a population of almost 47.million people, the HIV rate is 5.6% -that equates to around 1.6 million people with HIV – just think of that while we sip our cuppa tea in Britain, with our population of 60 odd million and an HIV pop of 124,000. Not that every single HIV positive person isn’t important – they most certainly are – it was just me making perhaps an uncomfortable point -to try and imagine what it must be like to have so many deaths still happening from AIDS – 83,000 Tanzanians died from AIDS in 2011…In the same year, 150,000 Tanzanians were newly infected; that is over 400 new infections every day.
Although the rate of HIV infections has recently fallen slightly, the epidemic’s severity differs widely from region to region, with some regions reporting an HIV prevalence of less than 2 percent (Arusha) and others as high as 16 percent (Iringa). It is in Zanzibar where you get the more concentrated epidemic which is low at 0.6% but isn’t felt like that when it is felt almost entirely amongst the small community of sex workers and injecting drug users and men who have sex with men. (see link to Avert above for refs) Men hold a lot of power in Tanzanian life, and women are often subjected to the furies and outburst of husbands, boyfriends and ‘punters’ , most who will prefer to blame a woman than accepting responsibility for HIV infection themselves. She can be banished from the village, isolated, prevented from seeing her children, not to mention abused, and violated.
Susan told me, “Men take huge liberties -it’s not actually illegal for sex work in Tanzania – so the police take liberties and give you drugs – there are no rooms to work in – so the police take you into the cells and give you the drugs you need for sex. We can’t go to hotels to get some quiet place to work…” Susan continued….”Men take advantage because they know women get sick and they know they are vulnerable and then they can offer less money and it will be taken when the women need it. Women also don’t realise they can be re-infected with HIV, they often presume they are already HIV infected and that they can’t get HIV again.” Susan spoke quietly about a terrible beating she was given in a hotel by a man who took a room but who had been drinking. “A very bad beating…” she repeated slowly, as we both sat quietly on the curbside, looking at the ground. Ones’ mind can only imagine the fear and pain of such a situation -and then having nowhere to go for help or retribution.
When I asked Susan what can be done to improve things for Tanzanian women she suddenly sat up. “Men are not getting educated in to how to treat women! We also need good quality condoms and lubricant – (not the cheap thin ones that break or condoms without the lubricant!). You have to worry not only about the sex and the partner but how well men are educated – some men don’t understand about infections…” Which must make life a lot harder for women in such a macho culture.
Susan looked determined, “we need to empower women to be more assertive – my friend she drinks, she smokes and has 5 kids and small babies, I say ‘why don’t you want to use contraception?’ It is always the way – she can’t always access it -or she thinks a new baby will keep the next man with her to help her to be a family.” I asked Susan what she would like to say to Tanzanian women. “One thing I would like to say is for women to come out, not to have doubts or fears – there is nothing to hide – we have rights” . Susan was talking about being loud and proud!
Sometimes such words are easy to write down, but with Susan, they just cannot convey the incredible strength she exuded as such a young woman; one of those special women you just know are capable of doing momentous things. She is right -women need the support to become more assertive but at the same time we MUST educate the men, as young boys. Drive home equality between the sexes and rights in law for women. Quality education for the police in implementing these laws that affect women’s lives -and of course harm reduction information. Wow, what a job laid out ahead for Susan and her peers. But wow, what a woman to have on the right side! Final word from Susan…”We need more awareness (on these issues) and to come out and say it and talk for ourselves, we need to talk about this and be recognized for who we are!”
But, with women like Susan fighting the cause, and some committed funding and
resourcing of grassroots organisations like TaNPUD, there are many springs of hope for the future, beginning with the first drug user’s harm reduction conference in Mombassa, Kenya in November this year. I’ll post a link shortly. Or contact TaNPud direct: Tanpud@hotmail.com
NOTE: Please do take the time out to read a book of 26 stories by young HIV positive Tanzanian people, click here
- Tanzanian high-risk groups denied HIV services (IRINnews.org)
- Tanzania: Police Abuse, Torture, Impede HIV Services (hrw.org)