Through her eyes

International Women’s Day, and all the donors (or “Development Partners”, if you please) and NGOs and media are jumping on the bandwagon to frame their cause through a woman’s eyes. (More on “piggy-backing” your issue onto the topic of the day in this beautifully written piece on famine.)

Well, I’m doing it too. As part of my job here I’m supposed to contribute to another blog. We don’t do anything specifically aimed at women though. Instead, I wondered what issues face women in general, and the one that grabbed me was this: they are often forbidden from inheriting land.

The law is supposed to protect a woman’s property rights. But it’s not that simple, because customary law – based on the customary or traditional practices – also exists, and in many cases determines the outcome. And according to custom in many tribes, land stays in male hands.

I’d just been working on that article (final version here) when I heard another story of traditional practices competiting against modern laws. At a reading of short stories in the local bookshop, Christina, a Tanzanian student, told us how she and her younger sister had run away from home to escape female circumcision. They returned when their parents agreed to let the matter go, but a few weeks later, the sisters found themselves taken by surprise, virtually surrounded by family and neighbours, all prepared for the ceremony that follows circumcision. They ran away again, and went to the police. Their parents were arrested.

What must that be like – going against what everyone around you is doing, and saying you want to be different? And do you feel a relieved sense of justice when you find that the law is actually on your side? Even if it means your own parents end up in jail?

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