Rising woman: Decorated lawyer fighting for women

Wednesday February 17 2021
Rising pic

Lulu Ngwa’nakilala poses for a photo on the day of interview iin Dar es Salaam. PHOTO | COURTESY

By Diana Elinam

Dar es Salaam. Lulu Ngwa’nakilala is a recognized leading woman in areas to do but not limited to law, human rights and women rights. She has had an interesting career journey; while still at university with three other students she established an NGO where they provided education and support to other students in all the major institutions in Tanzania on HIV prevention. They initially volunteered and eventually received support from several organisations who agreed to partner with them.

After graduating Lulu worked as a lawyer in one of the biggest corporate law firms in Tanzania at the time. She has also worked in senior management positions for a number of international organizations which she led with a focus on the most marginalized and vulnerable communities. She made a conscious decision to work for Umati, a Tanzanian charity, because it was important for her to focus on the local organizations also. She worked at the leadership level with a number of partners, focusing on several development issues public health, education, gender and women empowerment, legal and justice issues.

Presently, she is the CEO of the Legal Services Facility (LSF), a basket fund that supports organizations that work in access to justice in Tanzania. She is also involved at the governance level with a number of organizations: she is chairperson of the Tanzania Women Lawyers Association (Tawla), board member of the Tanzania Forestry Fund (TaFF), the vice chairperson of the Tanzanian Start-ups Association (TSA), a founding Board Member of Tanzania Centre for Communication and Development (TCDC), which is an affiliate of Johns Hopkins University, and also a board member of the East African Philanthropic Network (EAPN).

Lulu has had a very unique educational journey. She received her O-level education at Kibaha Secondary School, an all-boys school. Then proceeded to pursue her A-level studies at Kilakala Girls High School, Morogoro and Jitegemee Dar es Salaam, where she studied history, geography and literature. Thereafter, she enrolled at the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM) pursuing a Bachelor of Laws (LLB). She furthered her studies and graduated with a Master’s in International Law and Human Rights from the University of Liverpool in the UK, and in addition to that she holds a Professional Business and Management Qualification from the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) also in the UK.

In a bid to enhance her business and commercial expertise she also pursued a postgraduate in Business and Management from Liverpool John Moores University.

Lulu says there is a quote that has always stuck with her and it says: “In order for anything to happen one must have a great point of start”. She is very grateful to her family and particularly her parents, who dedicated their time to raise her to the best of their abilities to ensure that she received a very good foundation which has enabled her to become who she is today. From a very young age she was introduced to books and read extensively which expanded her knowledge base immensely and exposed her to the world, ideas and possibilities. Books, especially she says, allowed her to see that anything was possible.


Lulu says from a very young age she was deeply against injustices of any kind: “I remember when I was 13, I picked up a newspaper and on the front page was a story of a 6-month-old baby that had been abused. After reading that story through, I immediately decided I would become a lawyer so that I could be a voice for the voiceless. As soon as I got into law, I opted for and majored in international law and human rights and went on to pursue a Master’s degree in those two disciplines. However, I have always been fascinated by leadership, so I also studied business and management so I could be a better leader”.

She also adds by quoting Dr Martin Luther King, Jr that she has always believed that injustice anywhere was a threat to justice everywhere. “I have always been passionate about people’s rights, equality and the pursuit of justice. In most instances, women and children are the most affected and it has always been my mission to do all I can to contribute to advancing the rights of women and children”.

Lulu gives an example of the 2016 Tanzania Demographic Health Survey (DHS) which shows that 50 percent of all ever-married women reported to have experienced physical or emotional violence. About 39 percent of women experienced physical violence and slapping was the most commonly reported act of violence, mentioned by 35 percent of ever-married women. Furthermore, according to the same statistics, 4 percent of women had been deliberately chocked or burned by their spouse and had been threatened or attacked with a knife, gun, or other weapon. The experiences of youngest women and girls who are vulnerable to gender-based violence (GBV), particularly domestic violence, are compounded by multiple forms of GBV due to age, rural life, poor access to justice, lack of power, and marginalization.

All these practices result in heavy health, emotional, social and economic burdens which continue to adversely impact gender equality and consign women and girls to perpetual poverty. Because of issues such as these, she decided to dedicate her time to work with several organizations which support women and children to mitigate these challenges. She believes investing in girls’ leadership potential, supportive networks, and access to justice are all critical in improving the lives of women and girls.

Lulu’s first and certainly most memorable realization of women suppression was when she was a student at the UDSM. She recalls there were much fewer female students and incidences of women being mistreated were many. The injustice made her run for vice chairperson of the student union (Daruso), a position that had not been occupied by a woman in a very long time, and surprisingly she received a lot of resistance from both male and female students, threats included! She did not stop her however it only pushed her further to act. Lulu vied for that position despite all the resistance that was thrown at her and was delighted to see that other female students have at various periods held that position from that time to date.

From her experience, Lulu has noted that there were a few men participating in initiatives or campaigns that aim to build up the welfare of women and therefore she says there is a need to have joint action which will involve women and men in this fight. Lulu says, “In most cases, men are regarded as perpetrators when looking at gender inequality issues; this is not right! We need to cooperate with all vital stakeholders including men in all awareness and media campaigns if we want to get real, significant change. It’s important that we regard women’s rights as human rights, and only then will we realize that it’s not something that can be achieved by just one group in society but rather we all have to work together”.

Lulu adds by saying both men and women have a role to play in ensuring both gender empowerment and gender equality are attained. If everyone will act towards achieving these milestones it will help to create more awareness of the issue. On this she says she has only two words: “We have to be both “deliberate” and “intentional”. Deliberate in our actions, we should not just talk about gender equality but we should purposefully put in place steps to ensure this. We have to be intentional because we must resolve to achieve gender equality by creating a conducive environment for gender equality to be achieved socially, politically, economically and legally”.

Lulu also says, Tanzania is blessed with so many female role models starting with the Vice President. She also says Tanzania has women leaders outside of the country who are trailblazers representing Tanzania and Africa in general, achieving major milestones for women everywhere. What she sees missing is more women in leadership positions; She says, “I would like to see more women in boardrooms and senior leadership at all levels. It should not be unique to see a woman leader but rather it should be the norm; being an only woman in a leadership position should no longer be celebrated as an accomplishment. We also need to have more positive role models for young women and girls. We should celebrate more women doing outstanding things and ensure young girls have more women to look up to.

Adding that there is a need to come up with a new program that will develop a cadre of young women leaders who will undertake social action. Saying such a program will present huge potential for building a movement of young women leaders

Lulu is working on an arena that is known to be emotionally, mentally and even physically exhausting but she concludes the interview by saying, “The good thing is I love what I do and I’m passionate about it. I enjoy every aspect of my work even though it can be stressful, however, I do not let that get me down instead I always think about the bigger picture. I focus more on the little wins every day because if I can make a difference in one person’s life then I’m happy. I hardly take a break as I’m always doing something, but I believe in making time for the things you love, so I time to read, take walks, talk to people and be with my two boys”.