Legal Services Facility > Our Heroes > Gender-based Violence > A sibling rivalry that tasted like sour grapes

A sibling rivalry that tasted like sour grapes

Chamwino 2

Esther Mabalwe (right) shows paralegal Rose Mhimbila (left) her grapevine in the village of Mazengo in Chamwino, Dodoma on an acre of land that her brother attempted to appropriate when her husband died. Esther was able to keep the vine following legal aid that Mhimbila provided to her and the involvement of the village leadership.

This case is quite unique as unlike many others it involves one side of a family as opposed to two.

There are countless examples of widows facing confiscation of their matrimonial property by in-laws but it’s rare to encounter a situation where a sibling is hell-bent on usurping property belonging to his sister.

The overwhelming majority of Tanzanian cultures places men at a greater advantage over women and this is particularly evident in matters of property ownership.

Cases of women missing out on inheritance or simply being denied their rightful access to property that is already in their hands are rampant.

Incidents of violence or long-term estrangement between family members routinely define the cultural landscape across communities both rural and urban, and this reality confronts hundreds of men and women across the country who work as paralegals under LSF’s Access to Justice Program.

Through this program though, stories of women traversing the thorny path of justice in rural communities abound and more importantly their triumphs over poverty continue to build pillars of inspiration for many others.

“This situation replicates itself enormously around here and as a result I’m called out to address conflicts at the Centre of which are women who in many cases are powerless and ill-equipped to take on the consequences of an inherent cultural elephant in the room”, says Rose Mhimbila, a paralegal in Chamwino, Dodoma who led us to the home of a friendly, warm-hearted widow in the village of Mazengo.

Esther Mabalwe lost her husband suddenly.  Soon afterwards found herself in a tug-of-war with her brother over an acre of arable land. Strangely, this land was always in her possession as part of matrimonial property.

Under normal circumstances one wouldn’t expect an outsider even a sibling to pursue it with a view to eventually own it. But this is male superiority territory and what a man wants a man gets. Not so fast though, if legal aid and education has its way!

“My brother harassed me a lot basing his position on the fact a woman around here couldn’t own land. We were three siblings but one of us passed on and we are the only two remaining and you would think he would have sympathy for me a widow but no, to him all that mattered was the land. It’s been a while since we last spoke to each other, we have become enemies so to speak”, she says.

Esther reported the conflict to the village chair who escalated it to the village land tribunal and when Mhimbila intervened with the cooperation of the village executive the case went all the way up to the district tribunal where Esther won the ownership right to the land.

However, Esther’s brother appealed but eventually lost and she was formally declared the owner. It must be noted that when her husband died they had the land, a few heads of cattle and a decent house by local standards but her brother took interest only in the land knowing of course that it represented the most value and for that reason it couldn’t remain in the hands of a woman.

Yohana Nhimo, the village chair met us as we were about to depart Esther’s home.  Nhimo says, “I’ve lived here for decades and I personally know that there’s nothing untoward in a woman owning land. You see, there is still a huge number of men who will disagree with me but it is a fact that this woman was always right;

“We can’t allow these despicable perceptions to continue to flourish; when her case was brought to me I made it clear that the facts were obvious and her brother had no right whatsoever to claim the land. I’m delighted that higher authorities reinforced this very stance”, he told us point-blank.

“After a while when I visited Esther to check on her progress since the end of the case I found that she had harvested and sold her grapes and had been able to cover her son’s college tuition. Furthermore she had spent some of her earnings in bricks in preparation for erecting a small shop. She has also been able to put finishing touches to her house including a new aluminium sheet roof and improve other vital areas of her everyday life”, says paralegal based in Chamwino, Rose Mhimbila.

“I feel very confident today mostly because I have been able to keep what was all along mine. The intervention of the paralegal and the awareness she provided in regard to my right before the law that I didn’t know about have turned my fortuned around. The presence of legal assistance locally means we have somewhere reliable to run to when our rights are threatened and as a woman I can testify to this very, very well”, concludes Esther.

For a long time, LSF has been implementing its “Access to Justice Program” across the country through a legal empowerment approach by providing grants to non-governmental organizations which are providing legal aid and paralegal services.  To facilitate these two crucial services which are provided free of charge to beneficiaries, LSF has invested TZS 42.5 billion in the program between 2016/20.

As the part of program implementation between 2016/20, LSF supported paralegals have provided legal aid to some 60,000 people countrywide and have also extended legal education to a total of 4.6 million individuals where 54 percent of whom are women.

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