Deaf paralegals vital for timely delivery of justice to deaf women

07Nov 2019
The Guardian
Deaf paralegals vital for timely delivery of justice to deaf women

WOMEN in Tanzania face numerous problems such as gender-based violence, sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination from family to national level. “But it is worse when it comes to deaf women due to the fact that their rights are denied and have no access to justice,” says a social welfare-

-expert, Heldina Mwingira.

Poverty and illiteracy are the main factors that lead to the deprivation of deaf women’s rights and lack of access to justice. Reports from the local media and government authorities show that about 55 per cent of the country’s deaf women are illiterate, most of them being poor with limited prospects for decent life.

“Lack of sign language interpreters aggravates deaf women’s limited access to legal aid and justice,” notes Mwingira, who works with a deaf women association based in Dar es Salaam. Currently, there are about 28 sign language interpreters in Tanzania who can hardly serve the whole country.

“Deaf women face many problems and lack access to justice at the judiciary, police, at the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and social welfare offices due to communication barriers as both service seekers (deaf women) and service providers in the formal and informal legal systems do not know sign language,” she adds.

To address these problems and help deaf women to solve legal problems, an association of deaf women, Furaha ya Wanawake Wajasiriamali Viziwi Tanzania (FUWAVITA), is taking bold steps to incorporate legal aid service delivery in its core programmes with a view to helping deaf women to access justice. Recently, FUWAVITA celebrated International Week for the Deaf under the theme “The Right to Use Sign Language is a Solution to Delivery of Legal Aid to Deaf Women in Tanzania’’.

 “The choice of the theme was made purposely to send a clear message to the wider Tanzanian community on the importance of sing language if we really want to remove millions of deaf women out of legal problems in Tanzania,” says Bilbosco Muna, an official and sign language interpreter who works with FUWAVITA.

International Week for the Deaf, which took place at Mwananyamala public grounds on September 23-28, 2019, was sponsored by Legal Services Facility (LSF), a nongovernmental and non-profit organisation that provides financial and technical assistance to legal aid prividors in Tanzania.

Generally, the event which attracted over 1,000 people—including ordinary people, deaf women, primary court magistrates, social welfare officers from Dar es Salaam municipal councils—Temeke, Ilala, Kinondoni and Ubungo—sought to expose participants to general education about deafness, particularly the causes of deafness, the degree of deafness, the type of hearing impairment, testing hearing sensitivity and so on.

Specifically the event intended to educate lawyers, social welfare officers, primary court magistrates and deaf women about using sign language. The assumption behind this approach is that smooth or smart communication between service providers (primary court magistrates, lawyers and social welfare officers) and deaf women will make handling of deaf women cases/problems easier and enable them to get their rights.

Besides exposing service providers to the basics of sign language, FUWAVITA plans to do more by initiating special training to deaf paralegals (both men and women) who will go around providing legal aid to deaf women. At the moment, there are over 4,000 paralegals recruited through LSF funding who provide legal aid to communities, but most of these paralegals do not know sign language.

“In the course of helping deaf women to solve their problems, paralegals need an interpreter, which many deaf women cannot afford…we have many reported incidents of deaf women who have lost cases, dignity, properties, divorced, forced out of their land/plot and denied their rights (in the formal and informal legal systems) due to communication barrier and inability to hire/pay sign language interpreters,” says Anet Gerana Isaya, FUWAVITA Executive Director.

According to the executive director, training of deaf paralegals will go hand in hand with extensive and regular training of Dar es Salaam-based magistrates, social welfare officers and deaf women themselves on proper use of Tanzanian sign language.

This will eliminate unnecessary costs of hiring sign language interpreters and facilitate communication when it comes to handling of deaf women cases as all parties—magistrates, social welfare officers, deaf paralegals and deaf women will be talking the same language, says the FUWAVITA director, adding that “unlike in the past, there will also be confidentiality in handling sensitive cases involving deaf women and in allowing them to express themselves freely.

At the end of the day, cases of deaf women will be dealt fairly in both the formal and informal legal systems and enable them to access justice,” notes Isaya.

Commenting on this social welfare expert Heldina Mwingira says “recruitment of deaf paralegals will enhance timely and efficient delivery of justice to deaf women facing legal and other problems in our country.” According to FUWAVITA, recruitment of deaf paralegals will start with Dar es Salaam wards and then to upcountry regions depending on the progress and success stories registered in the pilot phase.