NGO Showcase: Inherit Your Rights

My friends are awesome; they are amazing, brilliant people doing incredible work all over the world.  Unfortunately, for those of you who don't live in their corner of the world or know them personally, most people won't get to hear their stories.  My goal is to change this.  I am going to start a quasi-regular (you know how I am about posting regularly) series showcasing amazing women doing their small part to change lives.  Of course I will mostly highlight friends and acquaintances but if you know of someone doing amazing work somewhere let me know!

This past weekend I went to Arusha, Tanzania to visit one of my good pals, Jana Hardy.  I met Jana in Kenya 2 years ago when she volunteered for a small NGO in Nairobi before she was scheduled to start an internship at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).  When we met I was writing and researching my final papers for my MLS, one evaluating the causes of the Rwandan genocide and the other examining the effectiveness of international justice systems in cases of genocide.  Clearly, we were destined to be friends.  After 2 months in Nairobi she moved to Arusha where she spent some time before heading back to finish her law degree at Stanford.  (Did I mention my friends are smarty pants!)  In January 2011 she and her friend Katie founded Inherit Your Rights (IYR), an NGO aimed at bringing justice for Tanzanian widows who have been robbed of their land rights.

Since Jana can tell you better than I can about what IYR is all about, I'm going to let her do the talking; here's a brief overview of the agency pulled from her website: 
Tanzanian widows working with IYR
Inherit Your Rights has initiated its pilot project in northern Tanzania, in a small village in the foothills of Mount Meru. Through a local Pastor, we have met and started working with a group of 35 widows. We have acquired a plot of land here, where we can operate micro-enterprise projects to assist the women with their immediate needs, and where we hope to open a legal-aid clinic, focusing on probate and property law.

In rural Tanzania,
widows are extremely vulnerable to abuse: under customary law, when a man dies, his wife inherits nothing, unless she is childless and there are no other living relatives. The man’s children are his rightful heirs. However, if the children are too young to assert their rights, the man’s family often takes advantage of the situation, and expels the widow and her children from the family land. These women, alone and with no means of supporting themselves or their children, need both legal representation and practical assistance.
The plight of widows in Tanzania, as well as many other parts of the developing world is appalling.  I hear similar stories day in and day out from the refugees I interview.  The 'lucky' ones are inherited by their husband's brothers while the unlucky ones may end up fleeing their homeland out of fear for their lives and those of their children.  In many countries children are the property of the husband's family as well and if the mother is unwilling to relinquish custody they can be taken by force. 
IYR's vision is to build Inherit Your Rights into an effective vehicle to empower individuals to claim their property and inheritance rights, thereby strengthening their families and communities. IYR's approach is three-fold:

IYR seeks to work through a network of local leaders and pastors, to reach the widest possible population,  educating leaders about:
  1. property rights and inheritance law; and 
  2. how best to support widows in their area when they are faced with family pressure and abuse following the death of their husband.  
Through education we aim to break the cycle of abuse for widows.
IYR seeks to support widows in their immediate needs, empowering them through micro-enterprise projects that will provide them with a source of income to support themselves and their children.   
IYR seeks to provide legal assistance to widows who have suffered injustice. For too long, widows  in Tanzania have been outside the protection of the law, with no hope and no access to justice. IYR seeks to put women at the centre of the law, assisting them to assert, exercise and defend their legal rights.
While Jana and IYR focus their pilot project on empowering a group of 35 widows in the foothills of Mount Meru, you can play a part too:

Donate: Just $20 buys a Tanzanian kuku (chicken) and a share in the coop while $100 can hire Tanzanian counsel for a day.   
Volunteer: Donate your time and energy to the cause: intern or volunteer for IYR either in Tanzania or from the comfort of your very own home.  Contact Jana about other opportunities in web design or a special project. 
Spread the word: Read more about what IYR is working on and tell your friends.  Talk it up, blog about it, write an article.
Fundraise: Raise money doing something you love to help others.  Have a car wash, run a marathon, be creative!  
Photo credit: Sumana Ravi
Shop: The ladies began making cards earlier this year and while I bought them out while visiting Jana (expect creative Christmas cards this year y'all!), from what I understand this is an ongoing income generating project that IYR works on with the ladies.