In this blog, IFPRI Senior Research Fellow Valerie Mueller discusses the impact of paralegals and Community Based Legal Aid -programs in Tanzania. This blog first appeared in IFPRI blog stories.
Tanzania provides a glowing example of legal commitment to improving women’s land rights (e.g., the Land and Village Land Acts). However, in this setting as elsewhere, variation in the local interpretation and implementation of land laws exists. Customary law often dominates. For example, a 2009 study by the Women’s Legal Aid Center finds limited impact of land laws on women’s land ownership. A 2011 report notes that, only 38 % of widows receive a majority of their late husband’s assets in Tanzania.
Community-based legal aid (CBLA) programs surfaced to address the gap between legal reforms and local governance practices. These are programs that provide legal training to people from the communities, so that they can help others to know their legal rights. The idea is that these (often volunteer) paralegals can reach more people, especially women in rural areas, than can be served by conventional legal services.
The question is, do these programs work? To date, there are few rigorous studies that quantify the efficacy of such programs despite their growing popularity. We conducted a one-year CBLA program evaluation in two districts of Kagera, Tanzania in 2013-14. The program was created to improve women’s access and rights to land by raising awareness through sensitization activities and paralegal provision of mediation services and lawyer referrals. Paralegals were trained using a national standardized curriculum and randomly allocated to treatment villages to permit casual inference of program impacts. Our preliminary analysis indicates there were no benefits to the program in the short term.
Before reflecting on the challenges we encountered, it is worth sharing a few thoughts on how we measure program impacts and its implications. Our analysis largely relies on the documentation of changes in individual (male and female) legal knowledge, attitudes, and practices surrounding land issues rather than the resolution of court cases. While our survey reveals awareness of paralegals increased for women and men in treatment communities, altering social norms towards equitable rights for women over a period of one year is a tall order for any campaign. Monitoring and evaluation data highlighted the phenomenal dedication of some of our paralegals but excluded what happened in non-program (control) areas. Detailed case information collected by the judicial system was inaccessible for a study of this scale, but even if we had such data, court resolution only quantifies a minor component of most CBLA programs.
Many of the challenges faced by existing CBLA programs persisted in our study, such as paralegal attrition. Sixteen percent of our paralegals ceased to assist the community after one year. Some faced resistance from their local governments in spite of their involvement in the paralegal selection process. Others insisted on being compensated even though the voluntary nature of the program was made explicit by our implementing partner. Lastly, migration was high in these communities.
Of greater importance was perhaps the constraints on paralegal resources to reach those in need. The majority of paralegals reported spending their own money on transportation to reach clients. Here, looking at the differences in program impacts by village size speaks volumes. The costs of reaching clients is presumably lower in smaller villages. In fact, we find women in smaller CBLA communities are more likely to attend legal seminars, are more aware of paralegals, and are more likely to possess positive attitudes regarding equal land rights, wife’s entitlement to inheritance, and the fairness of resolution practices of the Land and Housing Tribunal (the main formal institution to resolve land conflicts). Even if our sample of women were no more likely to seek a paralegal firsthand, impressions of legal service providers in smaller villages changed in the short term in response to the program.
Our findings have broader implications for existing CBLA programs. First, educated paralegals have competing interests on their time and therefore it is worth considering whether small, monetary incentives change the dynamic of the program. Second, providing a mode of transportation for paralegals could enhance outreach, and therefore program effectiveness, in remote villages. Future research on mechanisms to improve the delivery of services and outreach of paralegals over a longer time horizon would shed light on more sustainable CBLA models.
Valerie Mueller is a Senior Research Fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute. She focuses on the impact of migration and employment on poverty in developing countries. Recent projects draw her to understand which mechanisms can be used to improve women’s access to ural (extension and legal aid) services using experimental evidence in Africa
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