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“We have customs that do not allow women to inherit land”

An interview with Global Legal Empowerment Network member Jamila Lugembe.

Jamila Lugembe is a Program Coordinator and Program Development Officer with the Tanzanian Women Lawyers Association (TAWLA). TAWLA trains paralegals who work to build legal knowledge and wherewithal in rural communities, especially among vulnerable groups like women and children, so people understand when and how they are entitled to claim their rights.

“WE HAVE DIFFERENT customs, different cultural norms, which do not allow women to inherit land.

Before, you would find a woman who was only aware of what the traditional law said about inheriting land and she would be getting kicked out of her house.  Now, due to our effort and advocacy, there are new land laws that are gender sensitive.

A paralegal living within the community would be aware of both the customary laws and the new laws, and be able to help a woman in this situation to understand her real rights and the new law that is in place.

Take a case where a woman is being displaced out of her land and her home because her husband has died.

In our land rights program, Promoting Access to Land Rights for Women, we have had paralegals working in Dodoma, for a few years, many years now.  They’ve been working on helping the community and raising awareness about land rights.

Take a case where a woman is being displaced out of her land and her home because her husband has died.  Let’s call this woman Mary.  In this case where Mary is being disinherited from the property by her relatives, the paralegals living within the community would see the situation and they would come in, talk to her, and explain to her her rights under the new formal law.

Now, with this cultural belief and the law that used to apply before, the woman would be like, what can I do?

We choose paralegals who are upstanding people with integrity in the community, people who will be listened to, who have some level of education, ordinary secondary education, and can read and write.  With these qualities they are already in a better position to advocate within the community and be listened to.

And with the extra knowledge of the law, they’re even more respected.  Having knowledge of the law gives the paralegal a basis to stand on.

A paralegal living within the community would be aware of both the customary laws and the new laws, and be able to help a woman in this situation to understand her real rights and the new law that is in place.

So in this case, the paralegal would talk, perhaps call a mediation with the family members and explain to them that under the law the land and the house belong to the woman and her children.  That would obviously make sense to these people.   They now wouldn’t want to pursue the matter further and go to court and lose anyhow, so they decide that it is better to leave the land for Mary.

If paralegals are not present in our communities they are not able to make that major difference.  In Mary’s case, if a paralegal weren’t there, then Mary – and this happens a lot in areas where there’s no paralegals present – would be thrown out of her house, and her and her kids would be left to fend for themselves.

We have case studies of kids who were out in the streets: both parents had died and they had no money to support themselves, but their relatives had sold everything and just continued with life as if it were nothing.

Now in these kinds of cases, sympathetic people within the community might adopt the kids.  But imagine if these sympathetic people were educated, legally, and could deliver this legal knowledge to the community and actually take steps toward making a difference.  Then it’s a much bigger impact.”

Jamila Lugembe, as told to Bremen Donovan

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