Gender, Justice, and the Problem of Culture: From Customary Law to Human Rights in Tanzania

Gender, Justice, and the Problem of Culture: From Customary Law to Human Rights in Tanzania

Gender, Justice, and the Problem of Culture: From Customary Law to Human Rights in Tanzania

Gender, Justice, and the Problem of Culture: From Customary Law to Human Rights in Tanzania

Synopsis

When, where, why, and by whom is law used to force desired social change in the name of justice? Why has culture come to be seen as inherently oppressive to women? In this finely crafted book, Dorothy L. Hodgson examines the history of legal ideas and institutions in Tanzania - from customary law to human rights - as specific forms of justice that often reflect elite ideas about gender, culture, and social change. Drawing on evidence from Maasai communities, she explores how the legacies of colonial law-making continue to influence contemporary efforts to create laws, codify marriage, criminalize FGM, and contest land grabs by state officials. Despite the easy dismissal by elites of the priorities and perspectives of grassroots women, she shows how Maasai women have always had powerful ways to confront and challenge injustice, express their priorities, and reveal the limits of rights-based legal ideals.

Excerpt

In July 1985, I had the pleasure and privilege of attending the NonGovernmental Organization (NGO) Forum that accompanied the United Nations Decade Conference on Women in Nairobi, Kenya. Before that event, I had seriously considered becoming a lawyer, but two years of work as a paralegal convinced me to pursue other dreams. and so I quit my job, bought a three-month air ticket to East Africa, and started on a journey that would change my life forever and lead me, ultimately, to a career in anthropology. a key moment in that journey was my experience at the ngo Forum. I was a young white American woman who had long been a feminist activist in the United States. From personal circumstances, I was sensitive to class issues, and I had been deeply influenced by such notable black authors as Maya Angelou, Ntozake Shange, and Angela Davis. But I had never encountered the range of global activists and ideas as those I did at the ngo Forum. the discussions I shared in shook my world, challenging my comfortably held ideas about women, feminism, and the possibilities and perils of “global sisterhood.”

One event in particular still resonates with me today. At a crowded workshop on “Custom, Law and Ethnicity,” I listened to participants share reports from all over the Global South about the “evils” of various “customs,” the implementation (or not) of national laws to eradicate them, and . . .

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