Even in this economy, it can be easy to take a $20 bill for granted. ATM machines dispense them like candy and one “Jackson” barely buys you a nice lunch in some cities.
But $20 will go a long way at Inherit Your Rights, Jana Hardy’s nascent NGO. It will purchase a chicken and a share in a chicken coop, which form the foundation for this organization’s initial efforts to empower Tanzanian widows.
Growing up in Spokane, Washington, Hardy, JD ’11, was not particularly interested in international issues. Even as an undergraduate “my least favorite class was comparative government and I hated studying foreign language,” she says.
In fact, Hardy initially did not intend to pursue a JD. “When I was in college, I told a high school friend that I absolutely was not going to law school.”
That changed in the spring of 2006 when she heard the head of the International Justice Mission (IJM), a Christian human rights organization, describe “justice” as a divine characteristic. “He emphasized the importance of social justice—and that was the motivation I needed to make a move,” Hardy recalls.
When Hardy entered Stanford Law School in 2007, she planned to work with IJM her 1L summer and then seek an associate position at a corporate law firm following graduation. She got involved in the wide variety of activities at the law school—serving simultaneously as co-president of the Black Law Students Association and as vice president of the Federalist Society. “But in the back of my mind,” she says, “I always thought I might start a project some day.”
Hardy says that the 2008 recession—and the accompanying shrinkage of the job market—accelerated her time frame for starting something on her own. And her focus sharpened while she was working with the SLS International Human Rights and Development Clinic in South Africa during the fall of her 3L year and volunteering with a South African restorative justice program.
“I started to see the larger picture and how all the pieces—NGOs, human rights groups, para-governmental agencies—fit together.” And, she says, “I liked the people. Initially, I was skeptical of ‘do-gooders,’ but I saw that some of these people were really innovating.”
Returning to SLS in December 2009, Hardy wished she hadn’t gotten off the plane. “I wanted to be in Africa and I was ready to do something tangible. Maybe it was an extreme case of 3L restlessness.” So she took a leave of absence.
Hardy returned to Africa to work at the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and reunited with friends she had met during her 1L summer with IJM. One of those friends, Katie Windridge, is a qualified attorney from England. And Windridge, like Hardy, also had been thinking about starting an organization.
Windridge, who lives in Tanzania with her husband, began talking to Hardy about the plight of the Tanzanian widows. It was eye-opening.
“Widows there are extremely vulnerable to abuse as they often have no support outside their husband’s family, and they are unaware of their legal rights,” says Hardy. “Under Tanzanian law, the widow inherits nothing—the rightful heirs are the man’s children. But if the children are too young to assert their rights, the husband’s family often expels the widow and her children from the family land. If she’s ‘lucky,’ the widow may be inherited by her husband’s brother.”
By August 2010, Hardy and Windridge were committed to the cause and exploring how they could best help these women. Their solution: Inherit Your Rights (IYR), an NGO dedicated to (1) educating women about their property rights and inheritance laws; (2) supporting widows in their immediate needs through micro-enterprise projects; and (3) assisting widows to assert, exercise, and defend their legal rights.
IYR’s first project—the Kuku Project—focuses on providing for the immediate needs of 35 impoverished Tanzanian widows who live in the village of Kioga. Kuku means “chicken” in Swahili, and Hardy and Windridge have purchased a plot of land there where the widows will work, earning money while learning to tend chickens that will provide them with eggs to eat and to sell. Eventually, Hardy and the team hope to open a legal aid clinic on the same plot of land.
Meanwhile, Hardy (who returned to SLS in March, graduated, and took the California bar exam in July) is in the United States, working on securing 501(c)(3) status and funding for the organization. In October she will return to Tanzania.
“I’ll stay there for at least a year,” she says. “And then, who knows, maybe I’ll return to California.” SL
For more information, visit IYR’s website.