Access to justice for all is a critical ingredient to human dignity and sustainable development. Goal 16 of the UN SDGs, on "Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions", is at the heart of Tanzania's journey toward achieving sustainable development. This goal encapsulates the essence of a society founded on justice, equality, and the rule of law.
Legal Services Facility (LSF) with unwavering commitment to these principles, has immense contribution into advancing this foundational goal, complementing and compounding the role played by other actors including the government and civil society. The facility strongly confronts cultural obstacles and unresolved legal cases, with essential legal aid services to the most vulnerable particularly women, girls, and marginalized communities through its access to justice program. Its efforts empower individuals to understand, apply, and shape the laws, enabling them to navigate complex legal systems and ensuring effective access to justice – a cornerstone of Goal 16. Furthermore, the facility works towards archiving Gender equality and empower all women and girls addressing the SDG goal 5
In alignment with the SDGs and national initiatives, LSF operates on the principle that informed individuals, possessing a sound understanding of their human rights and the legal framework, are better positioned for social and economic empowerment. Acknowledging the pivotal role of effective justice mechanisms and institutions in fostering comprehensive development and economic growth, LSF significantly emphasizes empowering individuals from the outset with special focus on women and girls. Through 184 strategically located paralegal units, each serving a Tanzanian district council, the LSF program annually impacts over 10% of the population. Remarkably, in 2022, LSF direct reached over 6.4 million community members across Tanzania, spanning both the Mainland and Zanzibar and indirect through mass media 10 million people.
Ms Lulu Ng'wanakilala, the CEO of LSF, underscores their commitment, saying, "At LSF, we believe that access to justice is essential for building peaceful, just, and strong societies. Our work is deeply rooted in advancing these principles, thereby contributing significantly to the SDGs."
Empowering Communities Through Legal Aid
LSF's impact and commitment to sustainability is calmly shown through the number of disputes handled and resolved by paralegals – an average of 70,000 cases received annually in which 60 percent are resolved. In numerous cases, these paralegals have provided legal aid to individuals as well as collective efforts with very successful outcomes.
In the remote village of Lundo on the shores of Lake Nyasa in Southwestern Tanzania, over two decades ago, the Anglican Diocese of Ruvuma entered an agreement with the village to lease 101 acres of communal land for sugarcane farming and a sugar factory, initially offering favourable terms. However, a significant change came when the diocese decided to repurpose the land into a hiring scheme, requiring villagers to pay Tsh75,000 annually for the same land. In response, a local paralegal group took action, providing vital legal education and assistance, empowering the village to reclaim its land.
Zakaria Kambanga, a leading figure in the effort, recalls the process: “Empowered by legal knowledge, we united and initiated a grassroots campaign, escalating it to the District Commissioner. Following a comprehensive review, the land was rightfully returned to the village. Each farming villager now enjoys a portion, contributing only Tsh10,000 yearly, funding communal development projects, including a new village office. “Crucially, we now harvest an average of twenty rice bags per portion which sell for up to Tsh200,000 each, thus enabling us to not only provide for our families but also have sufficient money for our children’s school fees.”
LSF Combats GBV, and Drives Gender Equality
LSF stands as a dedicated advocate for gender equality and women's empowerment, with substantial impact. In 2022, they reached a remarkable 3,646,820 women and girls, constituting 56 percent of total beneficiaries. Their goal, set at a 60:40 ratio by 2030, epitomises the commitment to providing equal access to both women and men, equipping them with the knowledge to navigate complex legal landscapes and safeguard their rights.
Furthermore, LSF's resolute dedication to eradicating gender-based violence (GBV) aligns perfectly with SDG 5, particularly Target 5.2, striving to eliminate all injustices against women and girls. In the past year, LSF addressed a substantial 8,113 GBV cases, highlighting their unwavering commitment to combat this pervasive issue. Notably, they resolved 3,176 inheritance disputes, with 1,172 favoring women, solidifying their role in securing women's access to valuable assets—a key aspect of SDG 5.
Beyond this, they've offered substantial grants amounting to Tsh4.7 billion to assist GBV victims and actively co-chaired the "Mama Samia Legal Aid Campaign" with the Government and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), extending vital support to grassroots GBV victims. Their comprehensive 5-year study on the Legal Aid Act, focusing on aiding GBV victims, adds depth to their commitment. In 2021, Paralegal organisations addressed 10,929 disputes with GBV elements nationwide, with a significant majority—8,113 cases—initiated by women, underscoring the essential need for targeted support in addressing GBV challenges.
Support to Women Economic Empowerment
LSF is firmly geared to uplift women's economic welfare and improve family prospects, this approach aligns with UN Women's 2022-2025 Strategic Plan. The plan recognizes that investing in women's economic empowerment paves the way for gender equality, poverty eradication, and inclusive economic growth.
LSF's impact is vividly reflected in the inspiring journeys of women such as Agnes Mollel from Leitayo, Arusha. Thanks to the economic empowerment education facilitated by LSFs’ implementing partner Community Economic Development and Social Transformation (Cedesota) and supported by LSF's funding, women entrepreneurs like Agnes acquire crucial skills, attain financial independence, and, in turn, become catalysts for prosperous and thriving communities. This Endeavor aligns with the goal of promoting decent work and economic growth (SDG 8).
“I engage in small-scale income-generating activities like baking, beadwork, soap-making, and animal husbandry. These skills and improvements in my life are the direct results of the economic empowerment education I received through training sessions for women entrepreneurs organised by Cedesota. With my financial contributions, I've lightened the load on my husband, helping with school fees and other family expenses, making life more manageable for all of us.”, Agnes explains.
Strategic National Support, Regional Involvement & Technology
LSF's also supports the Tanzanian government's dedication to gender equality, manifested through policies like the National Action Plan on Gender-Based Violence and the establishment of legal aid desks. Together, they form an unwavering alliance tirelessly working to empower women, eliminate violence, and ensure equitable access to justice for all.
Ms Lulu, while highlighting LSF's regional involvement and support to the government of Tanzania, notes, "As the Chair of the East and Horn of Africa Paralegal Network, we participated in a regional technical legal aid consultation, in conjunction with the Ministry of Constitutional and Legal Affairs, who chairs the East Africa Legal Aid Network. Our shared goal is to harmonise and solidify the work plans of these two regional networks, thereby fortifying institutional and legal frameworks that promote access to justice throughout the region."
Strategic employment of innovation technology in Legal aid:
Technology has revolutionised legal aid, ensuring easy access for those unable to visit legal centres. LSF is at the forefront of this change, with various legal aid apps and toll-free numbers developed through partnerships. In 2020, they launched the HAKIYANGU App, available on Android and IOS. This innovative tool connects users to a network of over 1,000 paralegals, facilitating contact and support akin to popular ride-sharing apps. Notably, it has resolved 315 disputes, covering issues from matrimonial and land disputes to child maintenance and inheritance. Beyond dispute resolution, the app is an invaluable legal knowledge resource, offering courses that 67 paralegals have already successfully completed, receiving automated certificates.
Ms Lulu Ng'wanakilala aptly states, "Our work is not just about numbers; it's about changing lives and creating a brighter, more equitable future for all."
What message to we want to put out? Is it about access to justice or ourselves? I would make access to justice as the main subject and refer to LSF as part of the process.