|This study focused on indirect exposure to violence against women by examining the discursive construction of gender-based violence in Kiswahili novels. While there have been numerous studies on violence in the mass media and its possible effects on young people, limited research has focused on the role of violence in novels, particularly those written in the African languages. Since novels comprise a significant form of media in Tanzania and are particularly influential in the lives of young people, this study examined how novelists employ dominant discourses of gender-based violence to depict perpetrators and victims of violence against women, and the way young Tanzanians make sense of these textual constructions.
Drawing on feminist poststructuralist and audience reception theories, this study combined textual analysis of Kiswahili novels with empirical research into their reception. A sample of 15 Kiswahili novels, published between 1975 and 2004, was analysed using Foucauldian discourse analysis to uncover the strategies novelists employ as they reflect, reproduce and sometimes challenge dominant discourses of violence against women in their novels. Focus group interviews were then conducted with 72 high school students in order to ascertain how they understood and responded to depictions of gender-based violence in Kiswahili novels. The composite model of modes of reception was used to analyse their responses as they affirmed, questioned, and critiqued the novels’ depictions of gender-based violence. In addition, in-depth interviews were conducted with six Kiswahili teachers to understand the relationship between the textual construction of gender-based violence and broader social/cultural practices, and to identify potential ways of using novels in school settings as part of wider efforts to end violence against women in Tanzanian society.
Analysis of the textual representation of gender-based violence in Kiswahili novels showed that the dominant male power of the perpetrators was the main reason offered for the violence against women depicted in the novels. However, cultural practices, poverty, alcoholism, male sexuality and uncontrollable jealousy were also foregrounded as factors promoting violence against women in Tanzanian society. Furthermore, while some novelists seemingly raised these factors to exonerate perpetrators from responsibility for their abusive actions, others punished the victims of violence for not complying with accepted social practices. By rearticulating discourses that exonerate abusers while punishing victims, the textual representation of gender-based violence in Kiswahili novels generally failed to challenge the dominant discourses that maintain oppressive social relations in Tanzanian society.
The interview findings supported the conclusions drawn from the textual analysis, and showed that the textual depiction of violence against women is influenced by cultural practices. Respondents also argued that problematising discourses that sustain violence against women and emphasising alternative ways of understanding gender-based violence would offer different subject positions to girls and women who experience abuse in Tanzanian society. In summary, this study illustrates the importance of authors drawing on alternative and critical discourses when representing violence against women in novels, and it also supports the contention that using novels as an education tool in school settings to raise awareness about gender-based violence would usefully contribute to wider efforts to end violence against women in Tanzanian society. To that end, a model for curriculum intervention is also presented.