IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs wrote in November about ‘Kitchen parties’ (bridal showers) now becoming popular in Dar es Salaam. Extracts:

Tips for managing domestic arguments and ensuring a happy sex life are just some of the bits of wisdom passed on at kitchen parties. No subject is taboo as the guests prepare brides-to-be for life as a wife….

Scores of elegantly attired female guests attended a recent kitchen party for a 25-year-old banker where the only men were the cameramen and disc-jockey. Gifts, mainly domestic utensils and kitchen equipment, were piled on an elevated platform where the bride-to-be patiently awaited her lesson. A procession of relatives and friends, each with years of marriage experience, took their turns on the microphone.

“If he comes home late, ask the house-girl [domestic worker] to open the door to show him you’re upset,” one elder suggested. “You are the one to wash the bed sheets clean and white,” another guest reminded her.

“The training at kitchen parties is geared toward making the bride so subservient, so docile and quiet. It gives women all the responsibility to make the marriage work,” said Charles Kayoka, of the Association of Journalists against AIDS in Tanzania, a group advocating greater male involvement in HIV prevention. “The intention is not bad – to make the marriage home peaceful and harmonious – but the outcome can be dangerous.”

Salama Jumanne, 37, a Tanzanian mother living with HIV, commented: “At kitchen parties you are able to learn about your husband’s expectations, which may help to make the marriage survive for a short period of time. But, really, what you are learning is how to think of your husband’s needs above yours.”

Women rarely control the timing and frequency of sexual intercourse in marriage; many African women experience sexual violence and coercion. The inability to negotiate safe sex, especially in a society where concurrent partnerships are common, places married women at greater risk of contracting HIV.

Prisca Rwezahura-Holmes, marketing director of Tanzania Marketing and Communication, a social marketing company, said change might be slow but it was happening. “Kitchen parties are candid; it’s a rare chance to reach out and share other women’s marital experience. They originally had … [the approach], ‘please your man sexually and do what’s necessary to keep him in the house’, but I think that’s changing.” Some NGOs have started distributing traditional wraps, called khangas, at kitchen parties, printed with HIV and reproductive health messages to encourage discussion on these topics.

“Kitchen parties are becoming more sophisticated and willing to push the sexual agenda,” Rwezahura-Holmes said. In Tanzania’s largely conservative society, matters of sex and relationships are difficult to discuss at home, whereas at kitchen parties there are no attempts to censor the conversation for sexual explicitness.

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