ARUSHA, Tanzania – When a six-year-old girl named Salma, accompanied by her grandmother, entered Maria Mushi’s office in Arusha claiming she hadn’t been payed for work as a housemaid, this 55-year-old sprang into action.
Mushi listened to Salma’s case and decided to help the child, especially since she dislikes child labour. Salma and her grandmother had asked women around Ngarenaro, a low-income district in Arusha, about where to go for help. They were directed to Mushi’s paralegal service for women and children run out of a local women’s centre.
Women in Action for Development Tanzania was established in 1993 by women’s rights advocate and executive director Elizabeth Mosha. Field offices are located in Arusha and Babati, but the organization’s work extends to women and children from urban and rural areas across the country.
“We provide home-based, palliative care for women with HIV. We also give women micro-finance loans for business. We also give legal advice and representation by our trained paralegals for those who cannot afford to see a lawyer,” Mosha said.
The organization’s goal is to empower women and children in Tanzania by making them aware of their rights. With six kids of her own, including five grandkids, Mushi knew this would be a chance to help young Salma make better choices in the future. She took the girl with her grandmother to Ngarenaro’s community development office, a place to resolve local issues before taking further legal action.
“I represented the girl and was able to negotiate with her former employer to get her the wages owed,” Mushi said.
Arusha city councillor for Ngarenaro district, Issaya Doita, finds this approach as an effective way to solve civil disputes. “The work WIA [Women in Action] does in the community is exceptional,” he said. “They’ve been able to represent many women and girls in need.”
Mushi feels strongly about women and children’s rights, giving up a potentially lucrative career in business to help Mosha grow the organization into what it is today, a community response team dedicated to eradicating gender-based violence and other social problems facing women.
“Women in Action for Development Tanzanina trains women paralegals to go into cities and villages to train more women to know their rights and represent those in need with legal matters,” she said.
This creates a ripple effect, as more women are trained on legal matters and entrepreneurial skills, the more educated and empowered they become to effect real change in Tanzania.
As 6-year-old Salma’s case came to a close, Mushi used her training to convince the girl’s grandmother to take her back home to their village outside Arusha. She also encouraged Salma to return to school and would like to see her become a paralegal one day.