So many people have run to social media, desperate to be a “voice” for these young girls. For these and so many other girls who are denied the right or access to education, denied the right to their own bodies as they are stolen, sold, abused. These and so many women who have no voice, who feel only shame and hopelessness.
Will our voices be heard?
Here in Tanzania, we have come face to face with the terrible plight of so many women and young girls who have no voice. On one of the islands on Lake Victoria, we know the woman struggling with HIV/AIDS, desperately needing medicine but with a husband that refuses her help. We heard the screaming cries of the woman being beaten by a man, presumably her husband in a drunken rage. But she is in a culture that disempowers her legal rights. We listened on the steps outside a bar to the desperation of two young women working in these lake shore places. They cannot see a way out of this life they despise on an island. We hear the stories of young women, even girls from the age of 14, who roam the islands to sell themselves. Even if they know the risks of contracting HIV, they are often unable to get tested with the limited resources and services on the islands. Wives are left abandoned by fishermen husbands who leave in search of a better catch at an island elsewhere. The women are left to fend for themselves and their children while the fisherman husband takes a new island woman.
The stories are not confined to these islands. Here in town, women are on the streets, without hope, with stories of hurt and pain. But they are women trapped in a lucrative business, one that is very difficult to match in terms of providing a viable livelihood alternative. We listened to the painful story of our friend in the city whose house-girl was brutally raped and murdered. So many vulnerable people taken advantage of, their “rights” denied.
When it comes to education, we know that on these islands, so much stands in the way of any children going to school: parents who would rather their children stay home with other work to do and also a lack of safe access to a school as some must travel by small boats to another island, which can be dangerous. But particularly for girls, with increased pressure to stay at home, sanitary issues preventing them, and schoolgirl abuse and pregnancy, even without Islamic extremists to stop them, it isn’t easy.
|Girls in school (Magozi) collect water|
|Young girls collect firewood|
This all came rather close to home just this week. A few days ago, just down the road from where we live (on Airport Road), a bomb blasted from an abandoned bag in the Lutheran church guesthouse. The young woman cleaning at the time (a member of the church and a friend of our friends’ house help) who found the bag is now in very critical condition in hospital. There is no evidence of who is to blame (many people had access to the church and guesthouse), or why this large Lutheran church was targeted, but speculation abounds, particularly following recent events in Zanzibar earlier this year.
So what can we say? What voice do we have on behalf of the voiceless? My voice, our voices, although we may clamour to shout, post and tweet, will never be enough. But in our fallen world full of wickedness and injustice, abuse and poverty, just one voice is needed. The Word. The Word that no one can silence. The Word that became flesh in Jesus.
“In faithfulness He will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his teaching the islands will put their hope.” (Isaiah 42:4)The Word has the power to change lives. Through the Spirit, which breathes things into being, a King’s policy is actioned. His just purpose in the world is implemented. So yes, here in Tanzania, we will go to women to carry out HIV testing in remote places, to educate and inform, to counsel through illness and grief. We will go with Christ’s Daughters (Mwanza International Community Church) to women on the streets to help and encourage them with opportunities for honourable, safe businesses and we will go to young girls on the islands to try and remove hurdles to help and encourage them to get an education. We will encourage upright people of truth to pursue careers as judges and politicians in this nation, to follow in the inspirational footsteps of women like Mama Kileo. We want to see blind eyes opened and those in captive set free. So yes, we will “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.” (Proverbs 31:8-9).
|One woman trains as a potter in Ikuka|
But most importantly we want to continue to go to these women and girls with the Word. To read with them, where necessary to teach them to read. That they might know the Voice that speaks both to them and for them. The Voice that says they are loved, they are valued, they have worth. The Voice that identifies with them when no one else can. The Voice that tells their story and puts it in a bigger, better one. The Voice that speaks life.
|Women given the Word in Kimande|
|Women given the Word in Magozi|