Promoting human rights and will-writing in Tanzania

Agnes in Tanzania holds the memory book that helps her trace her family history in Tanzania (c) Clemence Eliah/HelpAge International

(c) Clemence Eliah/HelpAge International

Agnes in Tanzania holds the memory book that helps her trace her family history in Tanzania

In north-west Tanzania, two HelpAge projects are changing women’s lives, empowering them to challenge the negative behaviours they face day-to-day.

The combination of age discrimination, gender inequality and economic disempowerment means older women are subjected to financial exploitation and physical violence, in some cases even murder.

Elder abuse in Tanzania is widespread and common. One way it manifests is through accusations of witchcraft. It was reported that 630 older people accused of witchcraft had been murdered in 2012 and in 2013 this had risen to 765. Awareness-raising is one way to tackle these superstitious beliefs - getting the wider community to understand that older women have rights.

"I didn’t know about human rights before. None of us did. Human rights were unheard of," said Agnes, who has become an older spokesperson in her village.

Will-writing provides financial security

Working with our local partner Magu Poverty Eradication Rehabilitation Centre, we are training volunteers to assist older women to claim their property and land. In the past, such ownership has often been denied to them.

Paralegals facilitate access to property title deeds and support women to write wills so they are better safeguarded against theft in the future.

By writing a will, older people make their own decisions about what happens to their property when they die. For many older women, it helps secure their assets if their husband dies before they do.

Previously, in cases where there was no will, the title deed for the property would go to the son when the husband died. Widows and daughters were left vulnerable to abandonment, poverty and isolation.

Now these women are writing wills with their husbands.

"I feel very happy that my property will go to the right people. I am happy because it is my decision, it’s not somebody else making that decision," said Agnes.

The will writing will also benefit future generations of women. As Mariam says: “Now in my will I have distributed my property to both my son and daughter. In the past only my son could have benefitted.”

Being able to plan is critical to maintaining autonomy right up to the end of our lives.

Women in the community have been empowered by what they have learned (c) Clemence Eliah/HelpAge International

(c) Clemence Eliah/HelpAge International

Women in the community say they have been empowered by what they have learned.

Giving older women confidence

The communities we have been working with now have access to quality legal advice and referral services, which will help to prevent future family and community-based conflicts.

The training gives women the confidence to stand up for their economic rights by helping them to interpret relevant laws, while sharing what they have learned with others. They are able to challenge attempts to illegally dispossess them of their assets.

"I felt like we were in jail but now we have been set free," said Agnes.

Find out more about our rights work in Tanzania on Exposure.

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