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Celebrating Paralegals, Barefoot Soldiers Advocating for Women’s Rights in Tanzania

Paralegals serve as frontline “advocates,” working tirelessly to bridge the gap between marginalised populations and formal legal systems in the East African nation.

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In Tanzania, the struggle for gender equality persists amidst a landscape of entrenched discriminatory practices and systemic injustices. Women continue to face myriad challenges, ranging from physical abuse to denial of property rights, relegating them to positions of powerlessness and vulnerability.

Despite the existence of initiatives aimed at addressing these issues, the pervasive influence of harmful social norms and patriarchal structures perpetuates gender-based violence (GBV) and hinders women’s access to justice.

The recent revelation by Same East MP (Chama cha Mapinduzi – CCM) Anne Kilango, who bravely shared her own experience of domestic violence by her estranged husband during discussions on the Presidential, Parliamentary, and Local Government Elections Bill, 2023, serves as a stark reminder of the realities faced by many women across the country. 

Her testimony underscores the urgent need for comprehensive action to dismantle the barriers that prevent women from exercising their rights and accessing justice.

Formidable obstacles

Women encounter formidable obstacles when seeking justice, grappling with deeply ingrained social, political, economic, and cultural structures. Biased gender norms limit legal expertise, and the complexities of navigating the justice system compound these challenges. 

READ MORE: Samia, CJ Juma Promote Uses of Alternative Ways of Resolving Legal Disputes

Additionally, outdated cultural practices and laws, such as the Customary Law (Declaration) Order of 1963, perpetuate patriarchal systems that systematically disenfranchise women from their rights, including inheritance, property ownership, and participation in decision-making processes.

In response to these challenges, various stakeholders have mobilised efforts to empower women and enhance their access to justice. Central to these efforts are organisations such as the Legal Services Facility (LSF) and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) like the Tanzania Women Lawyers Association (TAWLA), Zanzibar Legal and Human Rights Centre (ZLHRC), WiLDAF, Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC), Women Legal Aid Centre (WLAC), Kivulini, Mamas Hope Legal Aid Clinic to mention a few.

Through this strategic partnership and grassroots engagement, these organisations have successfully trained about 4,500 paralegals in Tanzania Mainland and Zanzibar. These paralegals are now equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to offer crucial legal assistance and education within their respective communities. 

Paralegals serve as frontline “advocates,” working tirelessly to bridge the gap between marginalised populations and formal legal systems. According to the 2022 LSF Annual Report, “a total of 198 women (69.2 per cent) among those who were interviewed said they had secured their properties, thus reinforcing the parameter that paralegals are the right agents for facilitating women’s access to their rights, especially in rural areas.”

Legal empowerment

At the heart of this approach lies the concept of legal empowerment, which emphasises the importance of individuals understanding and asserting their rights through legal means. By empowering women with legal knowledge and support, paralegals enable them to navigate complex legal processes, challenge injustices, and hold perpetrators of GBV accountable.

READ MORE: GBV ‘A Big Threat’ To Women’s Rights in Tanzania, LHRC Reports

Recognising the critical role of paralegals in advancing access to justice, the government took a significant step forward by passing the Legal Aid Act in 2017, formally recognising and supporting the work of these community advocates. 

Furthermore, initiatives such as the Mama Samia Legal Aid Campaign, with a theme Legal Aid for Justice, Equality, Peace, and Development launched in 2023, aims to expand access to legal aid services nationwide, with a focus on marginalised groups, including women with involvement of paralegal services.

It is indisputable that numerous injustices and conflicts arise within communities, often necessitating swift resolution rather than complex legal proceedings. In light of this, a prominent political figure recently dissuaded individuals from resorting to the courts, asserting that justice would not be served.

However, had the leader contemplated their message before addressing the public, they might have instead advocated for increased governmental investment in legal aid services at the grassroots level. This could involve expanding paralegal training programs to assist marginalised individuals, focusing on women.

Challenges remain

Despite these commendable efforts by both state and non-state actors, sustaining paralegal services remains a challenge. The reality faced by paralegals on the ground is limited funding and resources, which significantly impede their ability to serve their communities effectively. 

READ MORE: Corruption Named as the Biggest Barrier to Access to Justice in Zanzibar

This challenging environment may result in high dropout rates among paralegal practitioners and compromise the support available to women seeking justice. 

To address these issues, there is a pressing need for increased investment in paralegal training, technical support, and financial incentives to ensure the sustainability of these essential services.

Other countries, such as Kenya and South Africa, have a legal requirement to allocate funds specifically for legal aid services. If Tanzania follows the example, it should amend the Legal Aid Act of 2017 to include this obligation rather than leaving it to discretion. 

Development partners are encouraged to continue supporting this cadre of barefoot lawyers, ensuring sufficient paralegals in every ward nationwide. This proactive approach will contribute to the maintenance and sustainability of legal aid services at the grassroots level, consequently alleviating the burden on judicial systems.

Investing in women’s access to justice not only promotes gender equality but also strengthens social cohesion and economic development. By supporting paralegal services and empowering women with legal knowledge, Tanzania can pave the way for a more equitable and just society where all individuals can exercise their rights and live free from violence and discrimination. 

READ MORE: Committee, MPs Wants Election Laws to Have Provisions for Combating Gender-Based Violence

As the nation continues its journey toward progress and prosperity, women’s voices must be heard and their rights upheld, with paralegals leading the charge in the fight for justice, equality, and legally empowering communities.

Fortunata Kitokesy is a human rights expert in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. She is available at or on X as @fortunatak. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of The Chanzo. If you are interested in publishing in this space, please contact our editors at

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