Seeking justice for girls, women

Women are forced to dig a grave to bury Mzee Nkangiko Vigume, who died after a short illness at Bwihegule Street at Mtakuja Ward in Geita recently. The women were accused of bewitching him and several other men. PHOTO|file

What you need to know:

Starting November 2018, UN Women has been working with Tanzania Legal Aid Providers to implement a project on the enhancement of access to justice for women and girls

Dar es Salaam. The need for justice to be acceptable, affordable, accessible and delivered on time for women and girls in Tanzania has become seriously important to ensure that their protection is strengthened.

Recently, two Kagera women were allegedly beaten to death by their husbands who accused them of not cooking their meals on time.

One of the suspects was arrested while the other is still on the run.

As if that was inadequate, two elderly suspected witches escaped death by a whisker when some members of the community grievously assaulted them at Misenyi District, also in Kagera Region.

The women are still being treated at Mugana Hospital while investigations continue at Bwanjai police station.

Ms Christina Kamili, executive director of the Tanzania Network of Legal Aid Providers (Tanlap), said her organisation had taken up the four cases to ensure justice is served.

“Sadly, we lost two women. The circumstances leading to their deaths are painful and unbelievable,” Ms Kamili said.

She explained how the lack of legal knowledge affects many women and girls across the country.

“If you look at rural areas in general, you will realise that many women and girls are not aware of the steps they can take, especially when the perpetrator of violence is related to them.”

However, she hopes that with continued interventions, the prevailing situation in hot spots such as Kagera, would soon change.

Starting in November 2018, UN Women p, through funding from Sweden, has been working with Tanlap to implement a project called the Legal Aid Provision for Enhancement of Access to Justice for Women and Girls in the eight districts of Kagera.

UN Women programme specialist Rachael Boma said the one-year project aimed at protecting women from all forms of discrimination and violence, and to increase awareness on the available services to ensure equal access to justice.

“Activities to be implemented this year, together with our partners, will focus on why the women and girls should stand up for their rights, speak out and report all rights abuses to the police and defend themselves through free legal aid services;” Ms Boma said.

During last year’s 16-Day Campaign to end violence against women, Tanlap embarked on awareness raising activities that sought to empower women and girls in the districts of Ngara, Muleba, Bukoba and Misenyi.

According to Ms Kamili, the community engagements revealed a disturbing culture of silence among women and girls who face various forms of discrimination and violence.

“They expressed concerns over their inability to benefit from inheritance settlements, lack of access and ownership of land following the death of a father or a husband, unsettled child maintenance disputes, and unreported sexual and physical violence cases,” she said.

According to her, only 27 per cent of women in Tanzania own land despite being the backbone of agriculture.

Ensuring that services aiming at protecting women and girls are accessed countrywide, a two-day Stakeholders’ Dialogue was organised by UN Women working with the Tanzania Women Judges Association in Arusha.

It discussed international instruments and local legal services that promote and protect women’s access to justice.

Violence is a chronic problem. According to the Tanzania Demographic and Health Survey (TDHS 2015/16), 40 per cent of women aged between 15 and 49 experienced physical violence while 17 per cent reported to have suffered sexual violence.

However, only nine per cent sought some assistance from police.

For the right of access to justice to be enjoyed by all, some participants, who attended the Arusha Dialogue, highlighted the need to strengthen awareness of raising campaigns for full utilisation of the available services.

The discussion also focused on the need to create a people-centred justice system that leaves nobody behind.

That can be achieved by ensuring that services are affordable while efforts are made to strengthen the provision of free legal services for those who cannot afford.

Some participants advocated efforts to strengthen a justice-seeking behaviour to increase knowledge and demand for legal services.

In 2017, the Legal Aid Act was enacted, marking a new dawn on the important role played by paralegal service providers.

According to Ms Kamili, the law has since pushed for the proper coordination of legal aid to ensure that each entity operates under the supervision of an advocate as one way of ensuring improved service delivery.

“The transition also ensures there is monitoring of quality of services. Some police and prison officers were trained by a non-governmental organisation, Environcare, to ensure the provision of a continuum of services. This helps to connect women and girls to free legal aid services for civil and criminal cases,” Ms Kamili said.

While the direction that legal aid is taking is welcome, Ms Kamili said there was a need to also look at how best to provide representation of clients throughout the trial of cases that in many instances take years to complete.

“The free legal services we provide are largely donor-driven and to do justice to all cases brought before us, we need to represent clients until cases have been finalised in court. This is a challenge, considering that funding can dry up. We have since appealed to the Ministry of Constitution and Legal Affairs to establish a basket funding for legal aid through the national budget. This would go a long way in ensuring sustainability and accessibility of services throughout the country.”