Kenya Justice Project Final Report

This report is the final report for the pilot project, Enhancing Customary Justice Systems in the Mau Forest, Kenya (the Justice Project or Project), a project that specifically targeted a customary justice institution in an effort to test a model for transforming that institution into supporters and enforcers of women’s land rights. This Final Report discusses: (1) Project background; (2) Project administration and logistics; (3) Project activities and outcomes; (4) a summary of the Project impact evaluation; (5) related communications efforts; and (6) conclusions.

For the average woman in rural Kenya, access to justice begins and ends in her village. Too often, the obstacles rural women face to access formal courts are formidable, including long travel distances; high costs for legal counsel; time-consuming delays; and language barriers. Instead, they may turn for redress to typically all-male customary justice institutions located within their communities. Here, too, rural women often face obstacles. They may be culturally prohibited from appearing before the customary institution because their community considers women to be minors, or if it is culturally appropriate for women to assert claims, they may face deeply embedded biases against women rooted in tradition or religion.

The primary objective of the Justice Project was to pilot an approach for improving women’s access to justice related to land rights by building the capacity of customary justice actors, particularly traditional elders, to support and enforce women’s land rights, consistent with the Constitution. Because traditional elders enjoy strong social legitimacy, influence the allocation of rights to land and natural resources, and resolve disputes, engaging them in strengthening women’s access to justice may lead to more secure resource rights for women, their families, and their communities as well as contribute to a more equitable rule of law.

Legal rights to land are necessary but not sufficient. There must also be in place institutions at the national and local levels that recognize and enforce those rights. Given that in Kenya the typically all-male elder institution wields significant influence over rural women’s access to land and resources, the Justice Project tested an approach for transforming such actors through legal literacy training and facilitated dialogue into supporters of women’s formal land rights. In so doing, the pilot project intended to help develop a clearer understanding of the relationships between customary and statutory law and thereby develop a model to promote the integration of informal and formal justice mechanisms. This approach was particularly timely in Kenya given the recent adoption of a new constitution that guarantees equal rights for women as well as mandates the promotion of “traditional dispute resolution mechanisms,” to the extent such mechanisms are consistent with the Constitution.

The Justice Project technical approach was multi-faceted, coming at access to justice issues from multiple directions, through multiple actors, and using multiple methods. The approach was as participatory as possible, using applied learning techniques appropriate to the target populations, namely: elders and chiefs, women, teachers, and youth (ages 18-35). The Project expected to see increased sensitivity to and respect for women’s land rights in elders’ efforts to resolve disputes through several methods: (1) legal literacy trainings focused on governance, land and forest rights, and the rights of women; (2) skills trainings on alternative dispute resolution and public speaking; and (3) facilitated conversations to reflect on the meaning of the above on their lives.

Underlying the pilot approach is the following hypothesis: women’s access to customary justice will improve with the confluence of four events: (1) passage of a new constitution creating new land rights or significantly strengthening existing land rights; (2) legal recognition of customary justice institutions; (3) legal literacy trainings; and (4) community conversations, i.e., facilitated dialogue on the implications of such legal changes within a “safe space.”

USAID initially funded the pilot for a one-year period, followed by a second commitment of funds to support an impact evaluation as well as a national workshop in Nairobi. All told, the Justice team worked with the pilot community for a 12-month period, with the other twelve months spent on work planning and curriculum development, the evaluation, the National Workshop, and close-out.

Further Reading