03/20/2017 12:54 EDT | Updated 03/21/2017 08:59 EDT

A Path Towards Greater Gender Equality In Tanzania

Kiwengwa Beach, Zanzibar, Tanzania - January 09, 2017: Local women with child walking along beach in traditional colorful clothes
dibrova via Getty Images
Kiwengwa Beach, Zanzibar, Tanzania - January 09, 2017: Local women with child walking along beach in traditional colorful clothes

By Brianne Meikle

While commuting to school a few weeks ago, I read an article by Metro News on the anti-Muslim protests scheduled to take place at Toronto City Hall over the weekend. Sarah Ali, an organizer of a counter-protest was quoted saying that anti-Muslim protests, "exist because of things like anti-terrorism legislation," referring to the controversial bill C-51, the Barbaric Cultural Practices Bill.

This made me reflect on the various ways in which policies have real life ramifications. Indeed, the very purpose of legislation is to have impact; to create positive change. While it may not be apparent, policy wields great power. Often, experiences of discrimination, violence, or marginalization are direct results of legislation and the tools used to achieve their objective.

I would like to share a brief example of the power of policy and how it deeply impacts people's lives, and how a rights-based approach can foster greater gender equality.

I am a past participant of the International Youth Internship Program, which was facilitated through VIDEA -- a British Columbia-based international development education hub. I completed my internship with one of VIDEA's partner organizations, the Women's Legal Aid Centre (WLAC) in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

WLAC seeks to create an enabling environment for women to attain their rights and improve their livelihoods. Among many other things, WLAC provides women, youth, refugees and other marginalized persons with free legal aid and lobbies for change of discriminatory laws, policies and cultural practices that sustain and promote gender inequality.

Under Tanzania's Local Customary Law, Land Act, and Village Land Act, women's ability to own and inherit land and resources are highly restricted. For instance, women are often unable to inherit property from a loved one upon their passing. Instead, when their husband dies, the property is transferred to their closest male relative. The inability for women across Tanzania to inherit or own land and resources leaves them vulnerable to abuse, exploitation, and homelessness.

These pieces of legislation aren't invisible; their implications are heard loud and clear across the country, particularly by women whom lay victim to their existence. Indeed, just like Islamophobia can be linked to anti-terrorism legislation in Canada, gender inequality and poverty can be linked to inheritance laws in Tanzania. Women become dependent on men to access land and resources, which they use to make a living and sustain their family. Without claim to that land, they lose any sense of security and the capacity to utilize their resources for long-term benefits.

WLAC is one of the key organizations working to dismantle discriminatory policies in Tanzania, and replace them with legislation that is conducive to women's empowerment and gender equality. By building women's capacity to claim their rights and actively representing women in court whom fall prey to discriminatory policies, WLAC is effectively able to challenge the court system and create space for dialogue and see impact on these issues, while also providing women with direct access to justice.

One case in particular led WLAC to win an award in 2015 from the Council for Eliminating Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Committee, and is expected to be fundamental for systemic change in gender equality, through improved legislation in Tanzania in the coming future.

In the case, two widows were prevented from inheriting their late husbands' property and were subsequently left homeless -- something that happens to millions of women each year in Tanzania. Upon WLAC bringing this case forward to CEDAW, "it ruled that Tanzania's legal framework which treats widows and widowers differently in terms of ownership, acquisition, management, administration, enjoyment and disposition of property, 'is discriminatory and thereby amounts to a violation of article 2 (f) in conjunction with articles 5, 15 and 16 of the Convention.' As Tanzania is a member of CEDAW, the committee can now apply pressure to the Tanzanian government to revise legislation currently inhibiting women's equal inheritance rights.

WLAC and its partners in solidarity like VIDEA are truly making systemic changes which will have a powerful ripple effect in women's ability to achieve greater results in economic engagement, food security, household poverty reduction and more. WLAC's work demonstrates that taking a rights-based approach to development can serve to dismantle policies that foster and exacerbate poverty, exploitation, and marginalization, which can lead to positive long lasting changes to the lives of women and those that depend on them.

Brianne Meikle is Project Officer at VIDEA

The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of CCIC or its members.

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