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International Human Rights Practicum: 2018 Trip to Tanzania

This report on the Human Rights Practicum trip to Tanzania was prepared by third-year law students Kendall Manning and Jackie Hacker. Manning is from Norfolk, MA. While at W&L, she has served as a Kirgis Fellow, a Burks Scholar, and a student attorney in the Immigrant Rights Clinic. After graduation, she will join the Securities & Capital Markets group at McGuireWoods LLP in Charlotte, NC. Hacker is from Cocoa Beach, FL. At W&L, she served as the Mock Trial Chair on the Moot Court Executive Board, President of OUTLaw, and a student leader in the American Constitution Society. After graduation, she will clerk in the Union County Superior Court in Elizabeth, NJ.

This year, two professors and ten W&L Law students traveled to the Women’s Legal Aid Centre (WLAC) in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to research and report on why the country’s divorce process leaves so many of its women in poverty. This partnership with WLAC stems from the International Human Rights Practicum that Dean Johanna Bond and Professor David Baluarte are teaching as a part of W&L Law’s experiential learning program.

Each year that Dean Bond teaches the class, students pair up with an INGO or a foreign NGO to advocate against international human rights violations abroad through specific targeted directives. While the methods of advocacy differ each year, this year the group led a fact-finding mission to Tanzania in hopes of researching and producing a report that would assist WLAC in its advocacy efforts. Specifically, WLAC hopes to use the report to raise awareness amongst the judiciary, the legislature and its legal community about the inequitable division of marital assets upon divorce.

This project consisted of several parts. For the first several months in this year-long course, we studied the foundations of international human rights law and the ethics of cross-cultural human rights work in developing countries. We also spent this time familiarizing ourselves with the structure, methodology and substance of international human rights reports like the type that WLAC commissioned us to write.

Next, we began the task of learning the ins and outs of an entirely new, pluralistic legal system. In doing so, we looked to the legal structure of the country—specifically, its judicial system—to understand how the divorce process worked. We also spent time reviewing Tanzanian case law and the Law of Marriage Act, as this is the act that governs marriage and divorce in Tanzania. The Act was quite progressive at the time it was passed because it attempted to combine customary, religious, and civil marriage laws. Additionally, we familiarized ourselves with Tanzanian culture to better understand marriage customs and traditions and, in turn, better understand the Law of Marriage Act.

Next, we compiled our findings, fact-checked them with WLAC and prepared questions and interview plans based on those findings. We conducted several mock interviews based on these interview plans before finally setting off for Tanzania over spring break!

While in Tanzania, we interviewed divorced and separated women, magistrates and judges, legal aid attorneys, private divorce attorneys, paralegals, court brokers, police officers at women’s gender desks, religious leaders, council members of marriage reconciliation boards, social welfare officers in ward tribunals, and representatives of NGOs working on women’s rights in Dar es Salaam. We spent five days conducting these interviews with WLAC attorneys, all the while learning more about the divorce process in Tanzania. Our partnership with WLAC was essential in obtaining these interviews and establishing credibility with interviewees in a legal community and system that we were still learning about.

These interviews proved intriguing, rewarding, and challenging. Some days, we heard heartbreaking stories from divorced women who had struggled through an unfair divorce process only to be left with 20% of the assets that they had worked years to acquire. Often, many of these judgments had not yet been court-enforced despite the years that lapsed since the case ended. However, we also heard promising anecdotes from those within the legal community working to combat the problem. For instance, we spoke to magistrates who assist women before them in court by asking them guiding questions about what evidence they must present. In addition, we learned about existing awareness campaigns that are educating women about their property rights upon divorce. Each individual whom we interviewed had varying ideas about how to fix the flaws in the current divorce regime, so each interview provided its own unique set of insights.

Each evening after completing our interviews, we discussed our findings collectively over dinner and reflected on the day’s discoveries. Throughout these group discussions, both students and professors posited solutions to the problems that we discovered in our interviews. We also worked to hone our interviewing skills by discussing barriers we encountered and lending advice to one another about interview methods that worked. Ultimately, these evening conversations with each other, in addition to our daytime conversations with WLAC attorneys, were a great exercise in problem-solving and group collaboration. At the end of the trip, we had a more thorough understanding of the problems and recommendations that WLAC wanted us to report on.

Upon returning to the United States, we began drafting a report to tie our findings into international and Tanzanian law. We also began preparing to present our research to faculty members and fellow law students. At this point, we have received WLAC’s feedback on the first final draft of our report and are working to finalize that report by April 27th.