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How a women’s group opened the door to justice


It’s all smiles for Zubeda Msuya (second right), after legal education that is regularly provided to her women’s group by Jayna Mwenda (right), broke down perceptions of male entitlement among her in-laws and eventually returned her inherited farmland to her. Former village chair at Kiruru Ibwejewa Athumani Mshana (left), and a neighbour also played their parts in helping to bring the ordeal to a successful end for Zubeda. 

The Access to Justice Program being implemented by LSF across the country takes several forms, all of which are effectively designed to minimize the difficulties that, the beneficiaries of justice routinely face when in need of legal aid or education.

One of these approaches that paralegals deploy is mass engagement by way of community groups’ outreach. Tanzanian society is very sociable and people often gather in informal clusters to chat and divulge a wide spectrum of information.

There are also formal groups mostly created by women that aim to empower them economically against the plight of poverty, and such groups present ample outreach opportunity for paralegals.

In the district of Mwanga in Kilimanjaro, Mwanga Paralegal Organization (MPO) headed by Jayna Mwenda, has been very active in reaching out to the district’s residents who are scattered around the villages on the hillsides and the mostly arid savannah landscape that defines it.

From the organization’s office located beside the main road that heads out of Mwanga towards Korogwe and beyond, Mwenda plans out meetings with these women’s groups and often travels several kilometres a day just to reach them.

“We cover quite a vast geographical area and in many cases our journeys are difficult but we keep our heads high because of the noble duty that we have to the general public especially women who are mostly disadvantaged and legal empowerment is their principal ticket to emancipation”, she says.

Women who come together to form groups primarily seek to improve their economic opportunities through facilities such as loans that many have used to very effective outcomes including school fees for their children, home improvement and starting up small enterprises to supplement their household incomes.

These women often run poor households that largely depend on small-scale farming and in a society, where women still face significant social hurdles legal awareness can mean the difference between heaven and earth for them.

According to data from the Kilimanjaro Women Information Exchange and Community Organization (KWIECO), which mentors and oversees MPO, an average of between 1,500 and 2,000 women are reached by legal education yearly through their community groups in the entire region.

These figures reflect both the large number of women investing their faith in economic empowerment groups and a vital niche for paralegals to continue extending legal education. The war against poverty is a daily battle and paralegals exist as a crucial catalyst to help ordinary women to galvanize their determination and drive to improve their own welfare and build better futures for their households.

One such beneficiary of these group outreaches is Zubeda Msuya, a woman of 60 age in the village of Kiruru Ibwejewa and a member of a local women’s group, who following the death of her husband, lost an acre and a half of land that she owned with her husband after her brothers-in-law repossessed it on grounds that the land was effectively theirs, a common claim across the country.

“I was confronted by a very precarious reality because effectively I was now staring starvation in the face. The land was no longer in my possession.  That meant I couldn’t farm on it; I was forced to beg for food from neighbours and that was a very demeaning experience for my family. But I belong to a women’s group here.  Jayna usually comes to speak to us on various important issues including what to do when in need of legal assistance.  So, I naturally sought her help,” Zubeda recalls.

“When Zubeda explained her situation, I knew from my experience that, it would be quite a task to address it directly with her in-laws because I knew that, such an approach would be rebuffed.  So, I advised to wait for the next clan gathering and then alert me and I would attend it as a well-wishing close acquaintance and use the opportunity to methodically bring up her issue;

“A previous attempt by her to convene a clan meeting was rejected with mockery. The loss of the land quite simply meant that her lifeline was severed and the pain of losing her husband was multiplied. An old, poor widow with one valuable inheritance asset that she could no longer access, was now at a crossroads”, says Mwenda.

At the gathering, she says, serious opposition to returning the land to Zubeda arose, however when Mwenda read out the victim’s rights as stipulated in the law, the hardline elders gradually relented and with the overwhelming support of three young members of the clan, Mwenda was able to convince the in-laws to return the land to Zubeda.

“The protracted conflict didn’t hold out for long after Mwenda spoke to the clan”, adds Zubeda.

Athumani Mshana who at the time was the village chair says, three days after the gathering, he was called to supervise the reallocation of the land and ensured that, Zubeda formally received her allotment.

“It’s been pure relief for me; from my harvests, I have been able to support my children through school, I now have sufficient food.  In essence my household needs are well taken care of.  The difficult days are long over and I urge other women to never shy away from pursuing their rights especially when help from paralegals is so close by. I’m also grateful to my group for their unconditional emotional support all the way,” Zubeda tells us.

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