Between Their Stories and Our Realities -- Chapter 5


Chapter 5: Yaliyo: The Way It Is

This video tells the story of the death of Mwanajuma, a woman born in a small village in Tanzania, in Africa.

Mwanajuma married a friend in the city where she was studying at the university. For choosing her husband and living outside of the cultural norms and values dictated by her ancestors, she is discriminated against by the men in her village, even after her death in a car accident. She dies and leaves two children behind. Her husband, following her wishes, brings her body back to her village. Her uncles and some older men of the village discuss the possibility of burying her in the village and of requiring payment of her dowry (in this village dowry was to be paid by her husband-to-be) after her death, because it wasn't paid at the time of marriage.

The principal issue raised in the video revolves around the punishments that men impose on women for not following the customs of society (marrying someone chosen by her parents in exchange for dowry, living in the village like the rest of the women).

Approximate duration: 15 minutes.

How is the story of Yaliyo: The Way It Is related to the Women's Convention?

The video shows many types of discrimination against women related to marriage that are prohibited by the Convention. See especially Article 16, parts a, b, c, and h. It also shows socio-cultural patterns based on the idea that women are inferior, prohibited by Article 5, part a.

The video also highlights some of the difficulties that women face every day in exercising and enjoying their human rights and fundamental freedoms, on the same level as men. See Article 3. More specifically, it deals with the freedom to choose, participate, express opinions, and make decisions.

The story also allows for reflection about the idea of dowry, where women are used as objects of negotiation.

A. Raising Awareness and Sensitivity

Possible Activities:

Few Destinies

The coordinator can write the title of the video, The Way It Is, on a large sheet of paper. Then she or he can suggest that participants think about the title and the story in the video. Participants can try to determine the meaning of the title.

Then each participant can tell the group about her or his ideas.

When We Switch Roles

The coordinator can divide the group into teams, and pass to each a card with the first article of the Wome's Convention:

The coordinator can distribute dictionaries so that they can be consulted if necessary.

Have the teams:

  • Read, analyze and debate the content of the article.
  • Identify all discrimination that Mwanajuma suffered, taking into account the definition in Article 1 -- any distinction, exclusion or restriction.... Discuss the ways in which her right to live a life free from discrimination was violated, along with the rights of the other women living in the village.

Then each team can put itself in the shoes of a character in the story, expressing how they would feel being:

  • Mwanajuma.
  • A family member or friend of the dead woman.

Conclude with a presentation of each team's conclusions.

B. Analysis and Comprehension

Possible Activities:

Universality of Human Rights and Cultural Diversity

Respect for cultural diversity is a necessary right if we want to conserve the differences and particularities of distinct social groups. At the same time, there are some rights that are shared by ALL of HUMANITY; they must be respected in spite of specific cultural characteristics.

The coordinator can present the following situation to begin a debate among the participants:

We know that different cultures exist in the world. People in Tanzania or Bolivia, Canada or India define their own practices, norms, customs, relations, and cultural ideas. As a result, people's values are different. Now, if we recognize these differences, are there rights that we may call universal? Why? Which ones?

The coordinator can act as a moderator and record the conclusions of the debate.

Then these instructions can be presented to the group, divided into teams:

  • Identify the practices, norms, customs, values and ideas that shape the culture of the community in the video.
  • Identify the practices, norms, customs, values and ideas that shape the culture of the participants' communities.
  • List the ways in which the culture presented in the video and the culture of the participants harm women. Debate about who is responsible for maintaining certain cultural traditions, and who benefits from them.

To conclude, each team can present its thoughts to the other. Afterwards, the coordinator can read and lead a discussion of Article 5 of the Women's Convention.


Marriage is a legal or religious relation between two people, where each one brings her or his knowledge and aptitudes to form a union. Roles inside marriage are often very specific: men work outside the home, while women work inside the home. These discriminations based on sex prevent women and men from fully developing their capacities.

The coordinator can invite the group to imagine the life of Mwanajuma before her accident. What did she do to prompt the discriminatory remarks on the part of her community? Read Article 16, part c and relate it to her situation.

Read the rest of Article 16 aloud and discuss it.

The coordinator can then ask each participant to think about one or two things that they like or that make them feel valued in their marriage or their relationship with their partner. They can use a drawing or an object to symbolize it.

Participants can do the same thing regarding things that constitute discrimination against them in the same relationship.

Each one can present and explain her or his symbol. Positive symbols can be grouped together, and negative symbols can be grouped together.

Finally participants can think about the two sets of symbols. Which symbols appear together? Are there symbols that appear in both places? Why?


A woman's identity is often related to her reproductive functions (wife, mother), to the maintenance of the home, to her father's identity and then her husband's identity. But the women's movement and the creation of a new feminine identity have changed many norms around the world.

The coordinator can present the words to the song heard in the video, which represents the idealistic vision of Mwanajuma's father and his desire for a happy and peaceful life for his daughter:

Oh! Child travel safely
Have good health
Your mother and I
We pray the Almighty God

You the obedient child
Your absence leaves us a void
All good we wish you
We know your habits.

The things we tell you.
Important to consider.
Our one and only child
To look after us
To know our need.

Rejoice with,
With maturity
To the husband go
Abide by the duty.

 We wish you all the best
Wherever you go.

We brought you up
All to Him belongs.

Go, we wish you best of luck
Devastated we are
Strangeness you are not
accustomed to.

Go and Practice
Good care we gave you
Whom we rely on
When troubles befall us
To assist us in old age.

Worldly goods
Comes marriage
Live in harmony
Of which the responsibility you hold.

After reading the song, the participants can write on a poster all the song's lyrics that keep women from developing their own identities.

In participants' communities, are there obstacles that keep women from developing their own identities? Initiate a discussion about demands on women made by our communities, families or governments, without considering women's wishes and needs.

Finally the group can think about identity after death. In the participants' communities:

  • How is the identity of a human being considered after death?
  • Is there discrimination between the post-mortem treatment of men and women?
  • Does discrimination continue after death?


Fully enjoying one's human rights requires participation in society and politics and the exercise of citizenship.

Participants can divide themselves into two teams. A card with the following text can be given to Team 1:

Team 2 is given tape to cover their mouths, and rope to tie their hands and feet.

Each team can familiarize itself with the materials, and think about some ways to use them. Then both teams can be reunited. The coordinator can ask that each group comment about the respective materials it received and about their utility.


  • Team 1 will sit in a circle and act as if it were representing the community's men, discussing the pregnant and ill woman's case.
  • Each member of Team 2 can find a place to sit down, outside the men's circle. Each one will sit on a chair with her or his mouth covered with the tape, and feet and hands tied with the ropes. Someone should be nominated to take on the role of the pregnant woman.

The coordinator can listen to the men's discussion and list the group's comments on a large sheet of paper.

Afterward the group can have a round table discussion. The following questions may be presented to open the debate:

  • What did participants feel in each role and observing the other team's role?
  • If it would be possible to choose, which group would you be part of? In which group would you feel more comfortable? Why?
  • What opportunity for participation did each member have?
  • What were the comments and decisions that were made by Team 1?
  • What were the opinions of the rest of the community? Specifically, what opinion did the young pregnant woman have?

The coordinator may want to return to the story of the video and ask the following questions:

  • Who participated in decision-making in the video?
  • What opinions would the men in the video have regarding women's right to participation?
  • What do you think the women think about participation?

To guide the discussion, the coordinator may put the following statement on a board:

Men discuss and decide over a dead woman's body.


There are many ways to violate a woman's rights. Imposing a dowry is one of them. There are different types of dowry. In some cases, a bride's family must pay the future husband and his family with a collection of material goods and money, as happens in India. In other communities, like the one in the video, it is the husband-to-be who must pay the father of the bride for his daughter.

The coordinator can lead a discussion of the following list of questions about the concept of dowry. In this way, a collective definition of dowry can be constructed.


  • What is it?
  • Who really pays the price? In what ways?
  • What rights are violated with the establishment of a dowry?
  • Are there differences between the price of a woman and the value of a woman?
  • In Western cultures, or other cultures where dowries do not exist, are there other types of prices put on a woman's body?

It would be interesting to remember the video's characters and their respective arguments about the dowry for a dead woman's body. Participants can analyze the position of each character:

  • Who is in favor of requiring the dowry?
  • Who is against the proposition?
  • Who has an opinion?
  • Who is not allowed to communicate her or his opinion?

Finally a discussion can be initiated about the following questions: Are socio-cultural changes essential to end some kinds of discrimination against women? What types of people in your community facilitate socio-cultural change? What types of people slow down such processes?

C. Strategies for Change

Possible Activities:

Each participant can write a letter to:

  • Her or his partner or potential partner
  • A father
  • A mother
  • Brothers or sisters
  • A friend
  • A family member
  • A neighbor
  • A community representative
  • God
  • Other

The letter's purpose is to express ways to improve relations with that person and overcome situations based on or resulting in discrimination. Some of the points we can keep in mind:

  • In what ways can we value each other?
  • What would be some of the attitudes that would guarantee each other's respect?
  • How can we share chores, activities, and responsibilities?
  • How can we listen and communicate?
  • What do we want as a person -- what do we like, what makes us feel good, what don't we like, what hurts us?
  • What can we do to construct a harmonious relationship?

These letters will belong to each participant. Only she or he will decide what to do with them.

Using the Media

Women need information to improve our personal and community lives, and to prepare reports to our governments asking them to eliminate discrimination. Communication tools and the media facilitate relations between different organizations and offer access to data bases, literature, magazines -- all necessary in order to face problems, research them, and design projects to alleviate them.

On a large sheet of paper, participants can list all the resources that provide information in their communities: libraries, organizations, networks, groups, etc., which may be used in order to do research on discrimination against women in their communities.

In small teams, participants can write down an act of discrimination against one or many women which is occurring or has occurred in their communities. Then each team can think about ways to publicize the case and find support. The coordinator can supply the following guidelines to facilitate the exercise:

Each team can then present its conclusions. The following can be discussed:

  • What are some of the positive and negative aspects of using communication resources? In what ways do they serve us?
  • What problems or difficulties can we expect?

D. Evaluation

Possible Activity:

Defining My Rights

Participants can answer, as a group or individually, the following questions:

  • I accept myself when ... because ...
  • The first important decision I made freely for me was ...
  • When I did I felt ...
  • I wish to be respected in my rights to ...
  • For me it is hard to respect ...
  • Because ...
  • In daily life with my partner the most important rights to respect are ...
  • In daily life with my children the most important rights to respect are ...
  • In daily life with my neighbors the most important rights to respect are ...
  • Women's most important human rights are ...
  • In this workshop I have learned ...


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