By: Rosella Chibambo
MWANZA – At a chance meeting in a hotel lounge in Mwanza, a local lawyer had this to say about human rights advocacy in Tanzania: when lawyers think about human rights law, what comes to mind is pro bono. Lawyers don’t want to take human rights cases.
More human rights lawyers might strengthen efforts to promote human rights in Tanzania, but a recent visit to Kivulini, a local NGO supporting survivors of domestic violence, revealed a more complicated story. For many survivors of gender-based violence, more lawyers may not mean increased access to justice.
According to Kivulini Executive Director David Ager, poor women are especially reluctant to launch legal proceedings against abusive partners. Husbands with control over family finances aren’t likely to finance their wives’ legal claims against them, and if they are brought to court, their families risk financial ruin.
Deciding whether bring gender-based violence cases to court is not even an option for women living in some areas of the country. In an overview of its gender policy, the Tanzanian government said, “The existing legal system does not reach the majority of women who live in rural areas.”
Some women aren’t even aware of the scope of their legal rights.
Free paralegal clinics offer an alternative and the possibility of increased access to justice for Tanzanian women.
In June, Kivulini launched a paralegal training program across four districts sprawling the northern city of Mwanza: Kwimba, Sengerema, Misungwi, and Magu. 100 paralegals have already been trained.
Paralegals can be trained quickly—Kivulini’s program requires 25 days of training—in certain areas of legal practice. They can offer legal advice, aid with legal proceedings, and referrals to other legal professionals, as well as reconciliation support.
Tanzania does not regulate paralegals, meaning there is no national standard of practice or expertise. Unregulated paralegal practice is a common concern, even in most Canadian provinces. Many legal professionals in both countries advocate for standard testing and regulation.
Kivulini trains paralegals using a curriculum from the Tanganyika Law Society, Tanzania’s mainland bar association.
Of the 100 paralegals trained during the first cycle of Kivulini’s two-year training project, there are 60 men and 40 women.
About a thirty-minute drive outside Mwanza’s city centre, Kivulini is located just off a road bordered by farmland that is being rapidly transformed by city development projects. Soon, a police station, various shops, and other civil society organizations will fill in the grassy expanse around Kivulini, an airy, newly painted haven for women fleeing abuse. Coincidentally, Kivulini means “in the shade” in Swahili.
The charity runs its paralegal training program alongside other survivor support, public education, and police training projects aimed at improving life for local women.
Clients generally contact Kivulini about issues of physical, verbal, and sexual abuse; division of matrimonial property; and inheritance and succession rights.
Kivulini staff members have worked with some male abuse survivors, but find that men are generally reluctant to go public with their experiences.
“They don’t report them because of shame caused by the social set up that a man who reports his matrimonial problems to others is regarded as weak and incapable of handling his family affairs,” said Eunice Mayengela, Kivulini Legal Aid program coordinator.
Kivulini’s paralegal project is aimed at filling gaps in local legal aid offerings. According to Mayengela, most legal aid offices are based in urban centres, and the limited fee for legal aid is often too expensive for would-be clients. As Kivulini’s executive director, Ager, put it, if a woman’s husband has beaten her over a few hundred shillings, less than a Canadian dollar, how is she going to afford legal aid?
By training paralegals from each district in Mwanza, Kivulini hopes to develop long-term legal aid units that can coordinate legal education and support projects from a local perspective.
“At the end of this project, the paralegal unit will be capacitated to form their own legal aid NGO, which will coordinate all legal aid services and will be administered by them,” Mayengela said.