The Monster from Within: Widows and Landlessness

Leonida Odongo
Posted March 23, 2020 from Kenya
Rural land -Kenya

Land means different things to different people. To farmers it means a source of food, a source of income and an assurance that their children will go to school, to a real estate agent, land means tenants and a livelihood. To indigenous communities land means life, continuity, a store for natural resources and abode of ancestral spirits. Land is a connection to the afterlife.

Widowed women are increasingly joining the world’s landless population. This is brought about by a patriarchal system that favours men at the expense of women. In Kenya for example, the Constitution (COK 2010)[1]  outlaws discrimination in all spheres in reality in rural setting, customary laws prevail over statutory laws. Burials are mostly in the villages and are carried out according to specific community customs which continue to place men and boys on a pedestal.

Women find it rough in relation to land both while still married and when widowed. At marriage many title deeds are in the names of husbands and at death it becomes easier for the women to lose out land to greedy in laws. Coupled with these are archaic cultural practices which still continue to prevail dispute the high level of globalisation and technological advancement. When widowed, women find themselves navigating a rough patch, they get evicted from their matrimonial homes, some are ostracised by their in-laws in a bid to push them out of land owned by the deceased husband. For widowed women living with HIV there is still the stigma associated with HIV despite over 100 percent awareness on HIV. Rural areas are different from urban setting when one talks about HIV. In rural areas HIV is still shrouded in stigma, many people still equate HIV infection with death. Sometimes the widows are accused of being witches or a source of bad omen in a bid to make living in their matrimonial homes unbearable.

Many women upon finding their matrimonial homes inhabitable run away to urban areas with their children to eke out a living, this sinks them into deeper poverty because upon deprivation of land, some women get chased away with nothing. A woman who was used to the tranquillity of village life is upon widowhood and the subsequent eviction forced into the hustle and bustle of city life trying to juggle motherhood and fatherhood to her children in the slums of Nairobi, Kampala and Dar es Salaam. The loss   of land is also often orchestrated by male relatives under the guise of “a widowed woman must be inherited”, the question that needs asking is what is the economic value of wife inheritance ?. Women who refuse to be inherited are ostracised by family members both males and females. To make the situation more complicated the councils of elders in many communities comprise entirely of men who are supposed to be custodians of culture thus reinforcing the discriminative stance towards women and girls when it comes to control and access   to property rights.

To curb this vicious cycle of economic, emotional and psychosocial injustice, more educational programmes need to be rolled out to create awareness on property and inheritance rights not only in cities but more in rural areas which is where property disinheritance is rife. Women should be trained on property rights and ownership long before they become widowed as part of pre-emptive defence. Additionally, joint titling should be promoted at all levels. Men and boys also need deliberate educational programmes on property rights and values so that they no longer see female property ownership from a competitive lens. Councils of elders also need re-education, learning and unlearning to look at women property rights differently. The culture of pro-bono lawyering also needs to be cultivated. There is an urgent need for a cadre of women friendly pro-bono lawyers in every rural community to take up property rights related cases. Additionally, there is need for training women and girls on paralegalism that way they will have the knowledge and confidence on how to handle property rights disruptions when the need arises. Women also need to form sisterhood networks to provide support to each other because property loss is an emotional feeling as much as it is an economic issue.

References

[1] http://kenyalaw.org:8181/exist/kenyalex/actview.xql?actid=Const2010

 

Comments 15

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Jill Langhus
Mar 23
Mar 23

Hi Leonida,

Thanks for sharing this urgent call, and need for reform, for women in your country, and elsewhere, too. I hear you, and agree. I hope that the resources present themselves so that women can live happier, healthier, freer lives going forward. Please keep us posted.

Leonida Odongo
Mar 23
Mar 23

Dear Jill,
Of course I will keep you posted.

Jill Langhus
Mar 25
Mar 25

Hello there,

Great!

Hope you and your family are safe and well:-)

Mbouharts
Mar 25
Mar 25

Hello dear sister . Well said . It’s good times and big expiration an hving here with you sisters in this platform. Little did I know there will be a day I can raise my voice to speak my mind .
All we need is just to be happy . Some of Our parents died young because the lack the opportunities that we had today . It about loving your self . Let’s give a good treat to our selves . Thanks ones more

Leonida Odongo
Mar 27
Mar 27

Thank you!

Leah Wangui Njuguna
Mar 23
Mar 23

Hi Leonida, I agree with you completely about educating women and girls of their property rights together with the male counterparts to liberate women from being discriminated against, upon the death of their husbands. The most important document that they are supposed to be trained to possess is a legitimate marriage certificate which comes in handy when claiming for the properties of their late husbands, which many Kenyan women do not possess after being married traditionally.

Leonida Odongo
Mar 23
Mar 23

I agree with you Leah, property rights is a complex web of many actors.

Tumanjong Miranda
Mar 23
Mar 23

Hi Leonida, I couldn't agree any less with you.
Women need to be educated on their rights, which include the right to land ownership.
Many of our countries here in Africa need to do reforms on these widowhood rites which never favour women in anyways.
Thanks for this great write up.
Hope you are doing ok.
In sisterhood,
Miranda.

Leonida Odongo
Mar 23
Mar 23

Dear Miranda,
Thank you for the positive comments .I'm doing fine .
More energy to the sisterhood.
Globalise the struggle !Globalise Hope!

Hello, dear sister,

Thank you for your insightful writing once again. It is heartbreaking that widows are deprived of land. I hope many will increase their knowledge of property rights to amplify this call to support your widows. Kenya is blessed to have a daughter like you!

Leonida Odongo
Mar 25
Mar 25

Much appreciation sister

Anita Shrestha
Mar 24
Mar 24

Dear Sis
Thank you for sharing this informative information.

Leonida Odongo
Mar 25
Mar 25

You are most welcome Anita

Vanora.Lee
Apr 12
Apr 12

Thanks for sharing and it's absolutely new to me and maybe others. Your call to justice and proposed way is helpful.

Leonida Odongo
Apr 13
Apr 13

Thank you Vanora