Women lawyers bringing legal aid to people

Women lawyers bringing legal aid to people

One group of such minded professionals, who have chosen to take on this cause are the members of the Tanzania Women Lawyers Association (TAWLA). They are based in Ilala District, Dar es Salaam and have branches in Dodoma, Arusha and Tanga.

While on a visit to their premises earlier this week, it was interesting to hear what their Legal Aids Department Head, Grace Mkinga, had to say concerning the kind of people, who have come to them seeking help, which they would not have got simply because they couldn’t afford to pay for it. The kind of cases varied. Last year there was one matrimonial case they settled that she referred to when talking to ‘Woman’ during the week.

“Our client came seeking legal advice because she didn’t know what to do regarding her husband. He had built a habit of beating and insulting her. He even used abusive language in front of other people regardless as to where she was. However, she still loved her husband very much so didn’t want a divorce but needed a separation,” Mkinga explained.

After finding more of the intricate family details from the client the professional lawyer called the husband by telephone and asked him to come to their offices for mediation. Fortunately he did and during the discussion each side was given a chance to table their issues. This was followed by Ms Mkinga, who handled this case, counselling them on the implications of going to court and making sure they were familiarised with various laws regarding issues of marriage.

The outcome was that the parties decided to resolve their conflict and agreed to start all over again with certain conditions that they should go for an HIV test. The husband had to promise that he would never commit adultery again. Ms Mkinga also mentioned a maintenance case last year, which their client won and the respondent was ordered by the court of law to pay 100,000/- a month for their child.

“This involved an 18-year-old boy, who came to us seeking help. His father had chased him away from home and had stopped taking care of him. Now he lived like a street child. On reconciliation the father admitted to have not been fulfilling his responsibilities to his son and promised to cater for all needs of his child as a caring, loving and responsible father does to his children,” the lawyer explained.

Yet again there was an inheritance probate - the process of proving that a will can be accepted as legally correct - case. This involved a young lady, who came to the TAWLA offices seeking help regarding her late father’s inheritance, 10 years after he had passed away. His relatives had been holding all his properties. Now both the client and her brother were old enough to take control of this property.

The TAWLA personnel responsible had to call all the above parties for reconciliation in regard to what steps and procedures of law they should take so as to institute a probate cause. This was filed and an administrator was appointed. By the end both children got a portion of their father’s inheritance. Another client of theirs from Coast Region had a matrimonial case.

After consultation it was decided that this lady, who had filed a petition for divorce in the primary court, which she was granted together with custody of her child. Her husband was ordered to secure two rooms for her and the child’s shelter. He was also compelled to pay their maintenance allowance each month.

“There was another probate case, where the client, a widow had been tested HIV positive. As is too often the case on the death of her husband, his relatives took away the house and other properties. Then they sold the house without her consent. We advised her to institute a probate cause, whereby she was assisted in the process of instituting this, and then filed a case in the primary court.

She was granted powers of administrator and the sale of the house was declared null so the buyer was ordered to vacate it,” Ms Mkinga said. As a result of the efforts placed in this area by such groups as TAWLA, the Government is currently looking into the matter to see what they can do to fill this gap in the legal system.

Just to get a better idea of the number of people that seek help within this category Ms Mkinga told the ‘Woman’ that from last January 16, when their offices opened after the seasonal breaks they have handled 128 clients. Coming to make a difference The numbers reflect the seriousness of the situation for which TAWLA was registered on May 10, 1990. Its main objectives are still to promote women and children’s rights, together with supporting the professional development of women lawyers in the country.

However, their name, “TAWLA” can be a little misleading for one may think that they only deal with issues directly related to women and children, therefore, men are not welcomed even amongst their numbers. Their Chairperson, Maria Kashonda, had some clarification to say concerning this, which she called a misconception.

“We also have men amongst our staff and clientele because we are gender sensitive and gender is about men and women,” she replied in the middle of a chuckle. “We have many clients and therefore, so now and then there will be a male, who cannot afford to pay for legal services.

We also have some male employees. We are for all vulnerable people, who need legal services but cannot afford to pay for it. Al-the-same, most of our clients are mainly poor women and children,” she further explained after composing herself. During a recent meeting, Ms Kashonda, one of the organisation’s founder members told ‘Woman’ she is pleased to see where they have reached.

She is not surprised because although they were a group of a few student lawyers, when they started 22 years ago, their zeal then gave them reason to expect great things. As professional women they were anxious to see that women and children have equal rights, added to this is each one’s personal desire to advance themselves. Therefore, from up-holding the association and making it successful in meeting its goals they stood a better chance of achieving both.

In the current debate on the constitution review process announced by President Jakaya Kikwete, TAWLA is working together with other liked-mind ngo’s lawyers to ensure that the gender perspectives is mentioned in this important process. Right from the beginning they had been using rented premises, until March 2008, when they opened their own building, “TAWLA House” in Ilala District, Dar es Salaam, close to Amana Hospital.

Now they are better able to deal with the long lines of clients they get daily. This has also put them in a sustainable position, because they do not have to look for rent every year any more. It was there that the ‘Woman’ met up with their Acting Executive Director, Tike Mwambipile, earlier this week. She spoke proudly of the work they have done in the area of law reforming, such as advocating for women rights issues to get into the land laws in 1999.

They have also kept a keen eye on followingup the amendments, which were put into these laws. According to Ms Mwambipile they have also succeeded through advocating, bringing about positive change for women in inheritance laws, which were previously discriminative against them. It was through their efforts that the Chief Justice of the time finally issued a circular that all magistrates, who had been practicing for more than one year were eligible to listen to cases related to inheritance.

Before this there was a long backlog in court. Another thing that she was very proud of was that TAWLA has a certificate of exemption for legal aid services. This means that those clients, who get this service and lost their cases, do not have to pay any costs. It must be remembered that not all legal aid clinics have this service. Such people are also exempted from paying court fees.

In case you did not know, TAWLA also made an assessment on all laws related to HIV/Aids and gave technical inputs
to the Government, which assisted them when handling different components in reference to this disease. They have contributed towards the Sexual Offenses Special Provisions Act, which is now in the Penal Code. They took part by initiating issues related to women’s right showing that Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is not right.

“TAWLA is trying to make a difference in the lives of women and children because for us, as women lawyers we felt if you help a woman to get her rights, you’ve not just helped her but her children, husband, brothers and sisters because most women use their money back into the family,” she said. Presently, they are very pleased with progress made in their self-imposed target to be achieved by 2014.

The six key objectives are to continue undertaking policy and legislative research and advocacy together with promoting land rights for women and children. Another is to raise awareness on Child Labour issues and the treatment of Juvenile Detainees. Over the 22 years, this group of women layers has also plotted a course, which includes campaigning for good governance, plus strengthening the capacity and sustainability of the organisation.


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