Fighting the extreme prejudice towards people with Albinism in Tanzania

Tanzanian woman with albinism with her son
Photographic journalists tell story of people with Albinism in Tanzania

In multiple African countries, prejudice is targeted at people with Albinism, the hereditary genetic condition that reduces pigment in the hair, skin, and eyes, and can sometimes cause visual impairments.

In the East African country of Tanzania the persecution is extreme, turning to violence and the hunting of people with Albinism. An NPR story addressing the issue stated, “More than 100 albinos have been violently attacked in Tanzania from 2006 to June of this year — 71 died and 31 escaped, though most were maimed. The attacks are so brazen that the government has opened boarding schools for albino children for their own protection.” NPR also spoke with Isaac Timothy, an Albino rights activist who explains one of the main contributing factors to this violence – the belief that people with Albinism are magical. He says that, “In society, there are people such as witch doctors who look for body parts; people will kill albinos to make magic. A miner will pour it in the ground where he wants to find minerals or a fisherman will pour it in his canoe.” As a result of such beliefs, many people with Albinism in Tanzania fear for their safety.

Another cause for the widespread prejudice faced by people with Albinism is the higher rates of Albinism in Tanzania. According to NPR, “Tanzania has one of the highest rates of albinism in the world — nearly 1 in every 1,400 people.” This is much higher to the world average of about 1 in 20,000. There are several possible reasons behind this high rate of Albinism, including that the genetic mutation behind Albinism probably originated in Tanzania and East Africa. In addition, people with Albinism in this region tend to marry other people with Albinism due to the high rates of prejudice they face, increasing the chance that their children will also have Albinism. People with Albinism in African countries face multiple issues including lack of necessary accommodations in school, fatal skin cancer due to sun exposure, and a general lack of understanding about the condition.

Some progress has been made to further the rights of people with Albinism in Tanzania and other African countries. Two members of the Tanzanian Parliament have Albinism, and are working to fight prejudice against people with Albinism. NPR concludes their discussion of this issue, stating, “The Tanzania Ministry of Education has provided an introduction to albinism to public-school teachers and college professors. And last year, the International League of Dermatological Societies and the drug-maker GlaxoSmithKline started providing wide-brim hats and sunscreen to albinos in East Africa.”

Several individuals are also fighting the prejudice towards people with Albinism in Tanzania through photography. Photographer Patrick Gries is working to share the stories and raise awareness of people with Albinism through a photo series called In/Visibility. Gries is attempting to address the “invisible” status of people with Albinism. According to an article covering Gries’ work by Boston’s NPR News Station, WBUR, “Albino births are frequently not recorded in Tanzania, and they are rarely buried in cemeteries because their bones are likely to be disinterred and stolen.” Through his photo-series, which you can view by clicking on the link to the mentioned article, Gries is assisting in bringing visibility back to the community of people with Albinism.

Photojournalist Jacquelyn Martin has a similar mission. She is trying to combat the violent discrimination faced by people with Albinism in Tanzania by showcasing their beauty through her work. Her series is called Tribe of Ghosts. Martin visited the Kabanga Protectorate Center, a place for people with Albinism to live and receive an education, protected from violence. When asked about working with individuals with Albinism, Martin told NPR, “In society, [people with Albinism] are reviled, so they really responded to being treated with dignity and being photographed in a respectful, humanitarian manner.” Martin intends to gift each of the individuals she photographed with prints of their photos, stating, “Because they are not treated like humans, because they are not treated with respect, I hope they have a little something that helps them reflect on the beauty in themselves — to help them going forward.”

Emily Pate is a third-year student at Seattle University interested in Strategic Communications, learning Spanish, and working with non-profits. Her work for Rooted In Rights is focused on discussing current events in the community of people with disabilities. Her experience previous to Rooted In Rights includes writing broadcasts for KBOO radio in Portland, OR, and managing a neighborhood blog in the Seattle community. In addition to work, Emily enjoys drawing, spending time with her friends and family, and backpacking.