Tanzanian women – especially teenage girls — who have worked in household jobs in towns and cities have tales of extreme workplace mistreatment. Many young women, who left their poverty-stricken villages in rural areas to look for jobs in urban centres, have encountered chilling stories of harassment and sexual violence that go beyond any description.
Today, 18-year-old Noge Simango, a resident of Chiyegeya village in Kilosa district, has no answer when asked about the father of her three-year-old boy who plays beside her.
“My body trembles with fear each time I recall Tabu’s (the name of the boy) father,” she says as tears trickle down her cheeks.
“I didn’t know that man very well,” she says, adding “this man used to rape me as many times as he wanted, any given time of the day.”
In 2008 Noge traveled to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s commercial capital, to work as a housemaid to a family of a high-ranking government official who retired last year.
“My friends from our village who were working in Dar es Salaam enticed me with the prospect of earning more money and leading a better life compared to that in the village where people are still wallowing in abject poverty,” she says.
She set for the four-hour journey to Dar es Salaam, a place she had yearned to visit after hearing many interesting stories that it was a land of milk and honey. Upon arrival at the Ubungo Bus Terminal, she was received by one of her hosts who took her to the house where she would work.
“It was a family of five – the father, wife, two sons and a 20-year-old boy who was a gardener,” she says. “This boy (the gardener) took advantage of my being new to Dar es Salaam to lure me into sex with him. When the father and the mother left in the morning for work while the two children went to school, he would rape me, promising to give me money,” she says.
In addition to using physical force, Noge says the gardener, one Sadiki, one day drugged her. “He gave me orange juice when no one was in the house, and I became unconscious after drinking it. When I woke up, I realised I had been raped. I could not tell this story to my employers,” she says while regretting why she moved to Dar es Salaam thinking she was running away from the harsh life at her village.
She eventually got pregnant and was kicked out and sent back to her native village without being paid her monthly salary of 10,000/- for ten months.
Noge, who now works as a petty trader in her home village, doesn’t want to recommend other girls of her age to go to towns and cities in search of employment.
“Hearing good stories, I thought Dar es Salaam was a land of riches and that by going and working there I would dramatically change my life. Regrettably, that wasn’t the case. For fellow women, Dar es Salaam isn’t what you think it to be. There you are treated like any animal doing all sorts of jobs which sometimes dehumanise you,” she says.
Noge’s story is important because it is the story of innumerable women across Tanzania who leave their villages in search of employment in towns and cities. These women return to their villages with horrific stories of exploitation and sexual violence. Some say it is better working in their villages rather than seeking better life in urban areas – a dream that never comes true.
Statistics on the number of teenage girls who desert Tanzanian rural villages each year to work in urban centres are difficult to get for lack of proper documentation. However, it is estimated that 90 percent of the women who leave the villages to seek employment in towns become victims of sexual violence, harassment and servitude.
Many girls don’t get the jobs and salaries they were promised and, as a result, they are treated like slaves working for long hours without resting or being paid their salaries.
The Tanzania Women Lawyers Association (TAWLA) says women can make themselves less vulnerable to sexual exploitation by knowing the laws and the rights pertaining to the type of jobs they get.
TAWLA, which for 21 years has been championing the rights of women and children in the country, says that the entire process of making women aware of employment issues and their rights is weak.
The association says many women who work in towns and cities either as housemaids or barmaids return to their respective villages empty-handed — with no income.
“And because these women work as domestic helpers and lack legal documentation, they don’t get any assistance from the government itself,” TAWLA notes. Despite the agony women endure in seeking employment in urban areas, the influx of teenage girls looking for jobs in towns such as Dar es Salaam, Morogoro, Mwanza or Dodoma ist still on the rise in recent years.
TAWLA notes that it is absurd the trend hasn’t increased their socio-economic standing because of a lack of rights. “Women still don’t have property rights. The money they bring back to their families after years of hard work in cities goes into the custody of their fathers. At the end of the day, they’re always empty-handed,” the association notes.
“The government should have concrete policies to govern the rights of women,” TAWLA stresses.
In summary, the thread that ties all societies seems to be the vulnerability of women to violence and oppression because of the lack of protection and representation for women in all governments and in all societies.