“Today I spent the morning at Arusha High Court. That made me realise that it’s probably time to write a little bit about work – after all, that is the main reason for me being in Tanzania. I volunteer at a legal aid office which mainly deals with women’s rights. On a normal day I go to the office at 10am and stay until 5pm (with a lunch break at 12-2pm, when I normally go home for lunch unless I’m meeting friends).
The organisation is a non-profit, and all paralegals working there are volunteers. In many European countries the government provides legal aid free of charge for those who need a lawyer but cannot afford to hire one. This is not the case in Tanzania. Legal aid offices do not get any funding from the government but rely solely on private donations, which makes things quite challenging.
The way it works is that people can come to our office whenever they have a legal problem but cannot afford to pay for a lawyer. The paralegals in our office provide information and advice, and where possible invite the other party to come and discuss the situation in the office hoping to settle the matter instead of going to court. Most issues are to do with inheritance or divorce. It is a common belief here that women do not have the right to own property and that their only purpose is to be wives and mothers. That is why women often experience problems when their husband or parent dies – even where they have the right to inherit the property of the deceased, their distant male relatives take it for themselves, leaving the women with absolutely nothing. Quite often women also seek advice concerning divorce, as it is very difficult to get a divorce here. The law lists a few specific reasons that are reasonable grounds for a divorce, such as violence, and even then you need clear evidence, such as doctor’s reports, to prove your case. Realising that you are no longer in love with your spouse is definitely not a good enough reason for getting a divorce! Quite different from Europe, where it is actually very easy to get divorced these days…
As well as working in the office, we also organise human rights workshops in remote villages where people are not aware of their rights and duties. The most important step is education. Women cannot defend themselves if they are not aware of their rights, and men cannot be expected to suddenly start treating women right if they don’t know the difference between right and wrong. But you know what they say – old habits die hard. It will probably take a very long time before things change in the larger scale. (And, of course, the biggest problem of all is corruption, which i’m not going to get into right now.) However, little by little we are hoping to change the way people think, even is it is just one person at a time. “Pole pole”, as they say in Swahili.”