Gender-based violence (GBV) has reached at the crisis level in Tanzania, adversely affecting women and girls. According to the 2019 Ministry of Health Study on Gender, 40.1 per cent of women experienced physical violence, while 13.8 per cent experienced sexual violence in adult life and only 27 percent arrived at health facilities within 72 hours. “Incidents such as wife-beating, men insulting women, grabbing their land, throwing things at them, are also on the rise in our communities,” noted a gender expert, Michael Thoshiba in an exclusive interview.

However, through legal aid and paralegal (a person who is not a lawyer but trained on basic legal issues to assist community members in resolving disrupts or to refer complicated issues to proper authorities) services which are widely available in almost all the districts of Tanzania mainland and Zanzibar, victims of GVB incidents are assisted to secure their rights.

“Paralegals helped to claim my divorce rights,” says 65-year-old woman, Hellen Onguru, who won divorce case following assistance extended by Musoma paralegals.

Hellen got married on July 14, 1979 to Mr. Onguru, who was a police officer by then, and she was a housewife. The couple was not blessed with any children during their lifetime. Despite, peace and harmony prevailed in this family.

After 38-years, conflicts erupted in the marriage, with the husband threatening to divorce Hellen and marry another woman who could conceive.

In 1988, Mr. Onguru married the second wife who gave birth to three children. He also decided to marry a third wife in 1996 who was blessed with seven children.

Inability to conceive became the main source of multiple problems for Hellen; she was insulted, severely beaten, denied access to food and other basic needs.

Sometime this year, her husband assaulted Hellen, an action which caused serious injuries on her body. She reported to the Musoma central police station and was given police form (FP3), which enabled her to get treated at Musoma Government hospital.

While at the hospital, waiting for services, Hellen met a paralegal Ms. Moss Mtatiro who was educating patients on legal and human rights issues. At the end of the session, Hellen approached the paralegal and took her contacts. The next day, she contacted Ms Mtatiro, who then escorted Hellen to the paralegal office (CWCA), where she was counseled and advised on the better ways of resolving the matrimonial dispute.

Musoma’s paralegal office summoned her husband, then they discussed the issues, but the man refused to reconcile with his wife. CWCA advised Hellen to go to the Rwamlimi Ward Tribunal Marriage Reconciliation Board, which also failed to resolve the dispute. The Board referred the matter to the Primary Court, where Hellen was granted a divorce certificate and matrimonial assets— a house located in Mwanza City, two farms, 3 head of cattle, 20 percent of the value of the plot located in Musoma Municipality.

However, her ex-husband, a retired police officer lodged an appeal at the District Court, which nullified the primary court’s decision and distribution of matrimonial properties on the premises that Hellen did not bear/have any child.

Musoma paralegals assisted the woman to file an appeal at the High Court-Mwanza, which reversed the ruling by the District Court, and re-granted Hellen her divorce rights–two farms, 3 heard of cattle, a house located in Mwanza City, 20 percent of the value of the plot in Musoma Municipality. Besides, the Court ordered the ex-husband to pay Hellen 30, 000/= Tanzania Shillings monthly for her upkeep until she gets married.

“Thank God, paralegals rescued me from a difficult life situation. I consider them as saviors of my life…they should continue providing legal aid to other people who have problems like me,” says Hellen, who emerged victorious after receiving paralegals’ support.

From that time, Hellen’s life has immensely improved; she gets monthly rent of Tanzania Shillings 200,000/= from her house in Mwanza, which enabled her to invest in several small businesses—fish vending, refreshments, clothing and tailoring mart.

“It’s unbelievable she finally got her rights…after a long struggle. Most of the villagers are aware of her situation, that’s why we are wondering how she got all this, considering that her ex-husband is a retired senior police officer. It’s like a miracle.”—Juma Kangomba, Hellen’s neighbor.

Hellen’s story is yet another example of the insidious nature of abuse against women. This is a case where the woman in question was able to get ample support, legal and otherwise to grant her justice. Unfortunately, this is not often the case for most women who have to endure years of abuse because of the lack of resources to help grant them justice.

This story is also revealing of the lack of reproductive awareness in African communities due to our culture and traditions – barrenness wears a face of a women, not the face of a man! This often leads to women shouldering all the blame when it comes to inability to conceive. The lack of knowledge about infertility leads communities to not consider a possibility that it may be the man/husband with the health issue, but more importantly, it is indeed a health issue and not a justification for maltreatment.