By Kizito Makoye
PANGANI, Tanzania (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Aisha, an ambitious young businesswoman living in the city, returns to her home village for her younger sister's wedding and re-connects with her past, meeting family and friends.
Perhaps because she stands out, dressing differently, working far from home, during her visit she is gang-raped by a rowdy mob. The villagers, apparently accepting what has happened, turn a blind eye and condone the violent attack.
Aisha decides to fight for justice. In the end she wins.
This is the story in the feature film "Aisha", recently unveiled by local non-profit organization Uzikwasa, the third film in its five-year-old campaign to promote gender justice in the Pangani district of northeast Tanzania's Tanga region.
The film paints a grim picture of the plight of girls and women in Pangani, who experience sexual abuse but remain silent to avoid the stigma and shame it brings on their families.
"If you are raped and decide to speak out, everybody in the village would taunt you, that's why most rape victims keep it secret as they don't want to be a laughing stock," said Rukia Mahmoud, a Pangani resident who has seen the film.
All three films made by Uzikwasa use village actors and are based on true stories, Uzikwasa executive director Vera Pieroth said in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"This way we make sure our audience identifies with the story and watching the movie for them is like looking into a mirror," she said.
Pangani town, nestling at the mouth of the Pangani river, has one of the highest levels of sexual violence in the country, the result of slack law enforcement, male chauvinism and moral decay, women's rights groups say.
Nationwide, about 10 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 say their first experience of sexual intercourse was forced, and 48 percent of married women say they have undergone sexual violence, according to the 2010 Tanzania Demographic and Health Survey.
"Whenever someone is raped, no serious action is taken, the alleged rapists are often arrested and get released without any charges," Mahmoud said.
The situation has improved since Uzikwasa launched its 'behavior change' campaign to raise awareness of women's rights through a series of films depicting common forms of sexual violence and how to avoid them, local residents said.
Its first film, Fimbo ya Baba, "Fathers’ Stick", was about early and forced marriage, the second, Chukua Pipi, "Sweet Deceipt" about the sexual abuse of a schoolgirl by an older man.
"I find this film "Aisha" very educative, engaging and thought provoking. It gives me the courage to speak out whenever my rights are violated," said Pangani resident Rukia Mdoe, 23.
Uzikwasa is using interactive film shows, radio dramas, posters and comic books in its Banja Basi, Speak Out, campaign against irresponsible sexual behavior.
"Aisha", which is being shown in villages in Pangani district and later across the country, is about the way stigma, shame and victim blame prevent women from speaking out against sexual violence, Pieroth said.
"This film was produced to break the silence around an atrocity that happens every day in our communities - and around the world," she said.
"We found that there is hardly any follow-up on cases because victims do not speak out due to shame and stigma. A common community attitude is that women are the ones to be blamed for being raped for various reasons e.g. wearing the wrong clothes or being seen as "loose".
"...the culprits feel safe knowing that authorities rarely take action. So cases are rarely taken to court and hardly ever end up in a sentence."
Amil Shivji, the award-winning producer of the film, said it combines powerful content and cinematic technique to engage the audience.
"We hope viewers will leave the film feeling a sense of responsibility to be part of Aisha's struggle," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an email.
Two thirds of the district population, some 35,000 people, have seen the film, Pieroth said, and as a result "there is an increasing awareness of the need to report injustice and to push accountability and leaders’ response to corruption."
"School committees have started to take action on cases of sexual abuse of pupils," and almost every village in the district has taken steps to foster responsible sexual behavior, she added.
(Editing by Tim Pearce. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)