MEASURES GEARED TOWARD ADVANCING WIDOWS’ RIGHTS

Written by Thomas Kagwa

Social protection programs for widows contribute to economic empowerment.

There has been an uptick of activities aimed at creating the political consensus for the adoption of macro-level economic policy accelerators that support gender-equitable inclusive growth and more and better jobs for widows, through evidence-based policy analysis and advocacy, technical advice, and capacity strengthening.

Across the board, there is widespread adoption of sectoral and industrial policies that tackle occupational and sectoral segregation and enhance widows’ access to decent employment opportunities, through policy advice, capacity development, and technical support.

Another measure involves ensuring that investments in care service provision for widows – in health, long-term care, and education are costed, financed, and implemented through policy advice, capacity development, and technical support.

Given the interconnected nature of challenges facing women, widow advocacy groups will use integrated approaches that have helped women elsewhere while focusing on systemic outcomes to address the root causes of the injustices and discrimination faced by widows.

The areas that advocacy groups target will centre around four pillars:

  • Widow access to economic opportunities and guarantees.
  • Widows’ social integration and access to legal services.
  • Ending cultural, physical, and psychological abuse against widows, and
  • Widows’ peace and security, especially in conflicts and natural disasters.

Despite the Kenyan government’s efforts, the prevailing cultural and social norms remain a central cause for disproportionately disadvantaging widows and creating multiple constraints for them, including limited ownership, access to, and control of long-term assets, resources, and services; labour market exclusion; high levels of illiteracy and numeracy incapability; limited access to income and decision making over expenditures; high fertility rates and high unmet needs for contraception and sexual and reproductive health education; overburdened with unpaid domestic work; and limited access to financial services; among others. 

Social norms continue to play a big role in determining bargaining power within a household. Limited control over resources and assets and their lack of power and autonomy does not only constrain widow’s well-being, but the well-being of their households and the community as a whole

Social protection programs can accelerate widows’ rights by expanding their opportunities for paid work, boosting ownership of productive assets, enhancing control over incomes, increasing social networks, and raising awareness of widows’ rights. 

Such gains do not flow automatically. Widow advocacy groups such as The Goat Foundation’s implementation strategy for widows’ economic sustainability, together with local realities will affect the extent to which these potential gains amongst widows can be realized in practice.

A social-norms lens is a major criterion for the design of any sustainable and gender-responsive social protection program. A social lens is not an optional add-on, but an integral part of social protection policy and programming if it is to achieve long-term sustainable change for widows. 

Social protection programs for widows should set criteria that are geared towards breaking through any negative stigma and cultural norms, including directing benefits to widows in the first place. As such, a careful review of the conditionalities required for empowering widows’ groups as well as strategies for gathering data on the socio-economic conditions of widows, remain important.

Capacity strengthening at all levels, as well as community sensitization and awareness of the role of both men and women in promoting widows’ economic empowerment, are key. This also means social protection programs must budget for regular training, workshops, dialogues, and the like, inclusive to both men and women in order to fulfil this goal. 

Commitment and priority in financing widow-responsive social protections are key and most important. Governments should mobilize and equitably allocate resources to ensure effective implementation and maximum program outcomes in both quality and quantity. 

ADVANCING WIDOW’S RIGHTS TO LAND AND NATURAL RESOURCES THROUGH AFFIRMATIVE ACTION

A group of people smiling standing next to a woman holding a goat by its leash

Widows have a right to own property

Over the last decade, Kenya has taken some steps to promote fairness and secure women’s rights within the institution of marriage. The promulgation of the progressive 2010 Constitution and the enactment of the Matrimonial Property Act of 2013 (‘MPA’) have been significant steps in the right direction. The act abolished the unconstitutional marital powers of the husband and placed husbands and wives on equal footing. Men and women who are married in civil marriages in community of property must now consult each other on all important financial transactions, as equal partners. 

Before the Act was passed, the common law concept of “marital power” gave the husband the right to control the joint estate. Even though half of everything belonged to the wife, the husband had the authority to administer the estate on behalf of the couple.

Section 5 gives equal power to spouses married in community of property: to dispose of the assets of the joint estate; to contract debts for which the joint estate is liable; to administer the joint estate.

Section 6 states that “a spouse married in community of property may perform any juristic act with regard to the joint estate without the consent of the other spouse”. 

Provides women married in a community of property equal access to bank loans and ownership of property without the consent of their partner.  

Makes the age of consent for entry into civil marriage 18 years for both sexes, and provides that men and women are equal before the law.

Provides that immovable property, such as a communal house, must be registered in both spouses’ names. The sale of such property has to be approved by both parties. Likewise, the act provides for equal guardianship over minor children of the marriage.

When a marriage in community of property ends, any liabilities are settled out of the joint estate. If the marriage ended in divorce, the remainder of the estate is normally divided equally between the spouses. 

If the marriage ended due to the death of one spouse, the surviving spouse keeps his or her own half-share and the deceased spouse’s half-share is distributed in terms of the law of succession or intestacy.

 

In marriages out of community of property, the assets and debts of the husband and wife remain separate. Ownership of property remains with the person who acquired it. If the marriage ends, each spouse retains his or her own separate belongings.

The Act also makes it clear that both husbands and wives in marriages out of community of property bear responsibility for making contributions to household necessities in proportion to their resources. Both spouses are jointly and severally liable to third parties for all debts incurred by either of them for necessities for the joint household. A spouse who has contributed more than his or her fair share for such necessities has a right of recourse against the other spouse.

Couples who have entered into antenuptial agreements sometimes use a variation of community of property known as the “accrual system”.

In this system, the property owned by the husband and the wife before the marriage remains their separate property, and property acquired during the marriage is administered as separate property. When the marriage comes to an end, husband and wife share equally all of the property and assets that were added to the household during the marriage. There is no sharing of losses, only of profits.

CASE STUDY – KNOWLEDGE OF SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE BEING USED TO EMPOWER WIDOWS IN KITUI COUNTY, KENYA

Woman dressed in green overall and boots bent picking plants on a farm

Sustainable agriculture is empowering widows in Kitui County, Kenya

Widows are a vulnerable demographic lacking in economic means, social capital and means to protect their individual rights. In recognition of their unique status as societal pariahs, community-based organizations in Kitui County came together and brainstormed ideas for creating sustainable livelihoods for widows living amongst them. Earlier on, it was evident that sustainable agriculture would be transformative and practical. It was a consensus that through a communal collaborative effort, widows could grow crops and raise livestock to guarantee them a source of food and income. 

Sustainable agricultural practices were intended to protect the environment, expand the natural resource base, and maintain and improve soil fertility in areas where it was practised. Based on a multi-pronged goal, sustainable agriculture was chosen as it increased profitability, and income, and promoted environmental stewardship.

Kitui region is located in the Arid and Semi-arid region of Kenya that receives little rainfall which is often sporadic. 

Among the activities undertaken were:

  • Rotating crops and embracing diversity.
  • Planting cover crops and perennials.
  • Reducing or eliminating tillage. 
  • Applying integrated pest management (IPM). 
  • Integrating livestock and crops. 
  • Adopting agroforestry practices. 
  • Managing whole systems and landscapes.

It should be understood that these widows were women previously displaced from their matrimonial homes, and they lacked the technical skill of utilizing scanty ecological resources to practice agriculture.

The introduction of this activity was therefore revolutionary in a sense. Previously destitute mothers could now look forward to harvesting their crops and selling them at local markets. The proceeds from this would then be used to pay for their children’s school fees, rent living quarters and purchase dignified clothes. The resultant social effect was the emergence of a class of empowered widows, who no longer looked at society with a bowl in hand, begging for sustenance. 

As a sustainable agricultural practice, the resulting effect was;

  • Increase in productivity, employment and value addition in food systems.
  • Protection and enhancement of natural resources.
  • Improved livelihoods that fostered inclusive economic growth.
  • Enhanced resilience of widows, whose socioeconomic ecosystem could withstand different economic shocks.
  • Adapt governance to new challenges especially as widows acquired social capital and economic power, they were able to hire legal aid to advocate for and speak for their rights.

The example of how widows were rescued from the throes of poverty and propelled to a life of hope and dignity is what the goat foundation aspires to and continues doing across the country. Scores of women have received a pair of goats from this foundation and the socioeconomic outcome has been similar. At the Goat Foundation, we felt encouraged to observe how different aspects of the Sustainable Development Goals were being attained by the simple act of communal cooperation, training and inculcation of relevant skills. It is for this reason that our foundation not only offers a pair of goats to widows, but we also provide crucial financial literacy training that ensures these women can start to grow their financial base through making informed decisions. 

 

A NEW DAWN IS NEEDED FOR KENYAN WIDOWS

 

Kenyan widows deserve a change in policies that will protect them.

As members who are traditionally perceived as being a burden and inauspicious to the family, widows are often relegated to the status of the ‘unwanted insiders.

The ‘triple burden’ that they have to contend with, in the form of the stigma associated with widowhood, severe constraints on access to resources, and sexual vulnerability, makes them one of the most marginalized and vulnerable communities in our country.

This is a stark contrast to their male counterparts, who are not subject to similar socio-economic exclusion within households. The problems that confound widows in Kenya are therefore manifestations of the extreme gender disparities that are inherent in Africa where widowhood is persistently viewed as a social stigma.

The Kenyan constitution defines human dignity as a basic right. To be dignified implies having access to food, shelter, and clothing. It also means that one should be in a position to receive medical, legal, and education services.

Widows in Kenya lack more than half of what it defines to be dignified. In addition, they are tortured, beaten, robbed, shunned, and mocked by a society relentless in ostracizing them.

The new government, therefore, has an obligation to uphold the law and abide by the constitution. This means ensuring that widows access the basic amenities and services due to all Kenyans as alluded to in the constitution.

As The Goat Foundation, we have some proposals that we would like to front which we feel if implemented would guarantee widows some sense of dignity.

 

  1. Pass laws guaranteeing the widow’s right to ownership of land and property of their dead husband.
  2. Rigorous enforcement of this law and punishing of lawbreakers.
  3. Community sensitization and education about the rights of widows.
  4. Offer micro-finance solutions to widows so that they can start small businesses and diversify their income.
  5. A welfare program that caters to the education of widows’ families and access to free medical services.

We are aware that there are existing policies and laws protecting women, and legal guidelines against theft, which is what is perpetrated against widows. The present policies need to be broadened to include all age and income groups amongst the widows. Moreover, Widow Empowerment programs should be sensitive to the needs of different sociocultural groups and cater to minority communities.

If our recommendations are adopted, these measures have the capacity to transform the fortunes of every widow in the country. These are measures that should be applied by national and county governments.

Fortunately, we have female legislators at both levels of government. These upstanding ladies should introduce legislation that expands on my recommendations above. In addition, these leaders should be at the forefront of initiating a national conversation on widows’ plight and their rights in order to lift the social stigma against widowhood.

It is our ardent hope that the new leadership will accord extra time to the rights of the weak and innocent.

 

The United Nations observes 23 June as International Widows Day, to draw attention to the voices and experiences of widows and to galvanize the unique support that they need.

FOR OUR FOUNDATION IT IS ALL ABOUT GOATS

Many have been nonprofit organizations and foundations founded in Kenya. Each of these organisations supports one cause or another while aiming to resolve issues afflicting social or economic well-being, progress or development among communities.

A Unique Solution

The Goat Foundation offers a unique solution to address and empower a group of people that in most societies go unnoticed. For The Goat Foundation, it is all about widows. The foundation noticed a gap in the services that catered for the welfare widows. In most cases, widows were ignored and received negligible support from the societies in which they lived in, therefore, The Goat Foundation embarked on a mission to support and empower them. “How?” you might ask. Through providing hope by giving goats.

The Goat Foundation donates a pair of goats to the family of widows. One female and one male with the hope that the goats will procreate and multiply and from two goats, the recipient will get multiple goats that can support her and her family.

While marking this year’s International Widows Day, according to The Goat Foundation’s Chief Project Executive Anne Musau, the foundation projects to give 20 million goats to 10 million widows across the country in the next ten years.

The Goat Foundation’s Chief Project Executive, Anne Musau with beneficiaries of the goat giveback

Did not go Unnoticed

This great act has not gone unnoticed as women in communities that received these donations expressed their gratitude and applauded The Goat Foundation saying the donations had empowered them and made their families economically secure.

Local community leaders and those from the larger political realm have not let the foundation’s goodwill go unnoticed with most praising the efforts geared towards empowering their communities. The leaders agree that the donation of the 2 goats benefits not just the widow but also those around them as the goats procreate giving the widows an opportunity to empower themselves and those around them by sharing the produce from the goats or some even go a step further to donate a kid to another widow like themselves.

Kitui Member of Parliament – Hon. Benson Makali with other leaders and one beneficiary of the goat giveback in Kitui.

One thing the widows, community leaders, and political ones can agree on is that the efforts by The Goat Foundation could not have come at a more opportune moment. The efforts have seen a once forgotten, very important group of people are empowered and can once again smile in the reassurance that their pockets are a little heavier because of a rather unique avenue of empowerment.

FROM THE HEART OF A WIDOW

The Goat Foundation Founder, Steve Down at a Goat Giving ceremony in Machakos.

Losing a loved one is hard. Imagine losing your all abruptly. Losing your partner, your support system, and your greatest cheerleader. Life as you know it takes a drastic turn and believe me it becomes dark. The partner you lose is like losing a part of you. No book written under the sun can prepare you for this. It is a heavy transition and really, there is no getting used to it. You just learn or is it re-learn how to live life.

When my husband died he left with me. Ironical right? It was crazy, it was as if I was in a trance. How? He was not sick, he was whole and hearty. Got into his car, kissed his newborn child and me goodbye, and left for the day just like any other day. Before he left as if he could tell he would not return, he left his phone only to return and spend a few more minutes that turned into an hour and a half playing with his new daughter. He was running late but that did not seem to matter. When the phone calls became too many to bear, he left gave us his daily dose of affirmations and dad jokes, and left. That was it.

He went to work and the next time I would see his car it would take a minute for me to tell what type of a car it is. He had an accident on his way to work and his short life was cut short. Through the mourning period, I was in a trance, I was in a daze, and I barely remember any conversations I had at that time. It was difficult but here I am whole and hearty with a well-raised and blessed child thanks to God and generous and giving foundations such as the Goat Foundation. As a widow you need a village, you need a support system and a sustainable one because what next?

The Goat foundation is that village for many widows across the county. It is breaching the gap for widows who would otherwise have been forgotten. It is returning pride and smiles to the widows. The Goat foundation is not your ordinary nonprofit, it is a nonprofit that lives and pushes cause capitalism. Through their for-profit institution Financially Fit they channel resources to caring for and empowering widows in marginalized communities. No, they do not give them money because in today’s economy money comes and goes very easily and fast. They provide an empowering avenue for widows through goats. YES…. GOATS. For this cause, they give 100 widows 2 goats each. A male and female and I dare say this is a neat idea because goats, as you know, have the shortest gestational period and within no time a widow can move from having two goats to multiple with proper care of course.

As we marked International Widows Day a day that is hard for all widows alike. However, this one is a special one for the widows across the country that have so far been impacted by this great cause. The Goat Foundation’s promise is that 10 million widows will receive 20 million goats in the next 10 years. Now that is what we call Capitalism with a cause. Cause Capitalism brings abundance and a fair shot at wealth creation for all widows. God Bless Cause Capitalists worldwide.

 HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS

During the 2007 post-election violence in Kenya, hundreds of lives were lost and thousands got displaced from their homes. The disputed elections were contested by leaders from the two of the largest communities in the country. 

Displaced by Conflict

As tension rose around the country and violence grew at an alarming rate, Joyce was advised by concerned friends to move back to her rural home in Murang’a, Kiambu County, from where it was assumed her security was guaranteed. 

Leaving her two children behind was one of the hardest decisions she ever made. She figured they were safer staying in one place, rather than traveling around in those unpredictable times.

While in Murang’a, her husband sadly passed on in a complicated story that requires a book to detail.

Donating a pair of goats to widows

Donating a pair of goats to widows

Joyce recalls how she was verbally attacked and kicked out of her husband’s funeral by her in-laws who thought she had visited their home to claim his property. In truth, she had braved danger and uncertainty to travel across the country to collect her children.

“What are you doing here? Why did you come? don’t you know your people killed my brother!!??” he fired off in a staccato of ruthless ire that made Joyce recoil from his presence in sheer horror.  

“You think we don’t know your agenda?” she had been told, “you will get nothing from my dead brother. His property belongs to us, his children are ours, leave before you follow him to the grave.” 

Scared out of her wits, her instinct of self-preservation had made her flee that home and city never to return.

In Machakos County, sad and confused, she settled at a nearby market center known as IIyuni where she worked as a cleaner at a local school and tended to a small farm around the house that she rented. 

Through her church, Joyce learnt about The Goat Foundation. Her pastor had presented her name for consideration as a likely recipient of a pair of goats.

Excited and intrigued Joyce attended the ceremony and was touched by the speeches exhorting generosity.

“Why should I act generously yet I am just a poor widow, shouldn’t I save all my money?” she wondered.

However, after deciding to adhere to the simple instructions of giving as spoken by donors at the meeting, she began offering herself to assist in church, buy meals for guests and even clothe a destitute child. She also donated the kids to her goats after they gave birth. 

New Beginnings

What followed was a series of miracles that bring tears to her eyes whenever she remembers. 

In a chance encounter with a family lawyer during a revival meeting, Joyce was advised of her rights concerning the custody of her children was concerned. Fellow church members got wind of her plight and got together to fundraise and hire a lawyer for her. 

Meanwhile, as her goats grew in number, she decided to try her hand at the restaurant business.

It is now three weeks since the custody hearing concerning her children began. Joyce believes good tidings await her. 

At the moment, she has to prepare for a meeting with an investor who wants to expand her hotel to a storied structure offering 3-star services. 

“So this is what giving is all about?…you give to receive!” she muses smiling.

Veronica Kanini speaking to the Goat Foundation

SHE DARES TO DREAM

A Chance Meeting

During a donation exercise by The Goat Foundation in Kitui Central, Kitui County, I was drawn to a lady of about 30 years. She wore jeans, a gray hoodie, and open slacks that were rather too fashionable. 

I watched as she energetically marshaled her local group of widows through the set program. She embodied the enterprising hope envisioned by conveners of The goat Foundation. I made a mental note to request an interview with her and find out what her story was. 

Six months later I sat across the bubbly lady named Mwende whose story was quite an eye-opener. 

“I am a businesswoman, so I have trained myself to read a customer before they open their mouth. This intuition has guided me to succeed in business and once, it saved my life”  

The Goat Foundation

Some recipients turned their lives around and begun giving as cause capitalists

 

She pauses for effect to see if she has my attention and then begins her narrative. 

“Let me tell you my story. It began ten years ago when…”

Tragedy and Redemption

Mwende got married right after finishing high school. Her husband was from Mwingi, a town that was near her rural home. He worked as a clinical officer at the Level-5 hospital in that town. Musyoka (not his real name) had courted her through her secondary school and after finishing her ‘O’ level examinations, she promptly packed her bags and moved in with him.

For the next 8 years, they lived happily as a married couple though they never got to formalize their union. The one consternating factor in her marriage was her inability to conceive. Her husband’s relatives whispered loudly urging him to get another wife. Her in-laws had performed medical telepathy that somehow diagnosed her, and not Musyoka, her husband as the offending culprit in that childless union.

As animosity grew against her, her husband remained faithful and refused to entertain village ‘advisers’ who made regular trips to their homes to consult on ‘family matters.’

Tragedy struck in July 2018, she lost her husband in a road accident. He had traveled to the capital city for an interview with a large private hospital. The grief and sorrow that soon overwhelmed her were compounded by the fact that her in-laws wanted her out of her matrimonial home as soon as the burial ceremony was over. The house she was being thrown out of had been fully purchased by her husband before he died. 

Clinging to Hope

Determined not to lose everything in her life, Mwende vowed to stay put and never leave the house and property she shared with her husband. What followed was a series of orchestrated threats, beatings by unknown intruders and social media bullying and verbal assaults. It appeared like all of a sudden all members of her husband’s family had something rude to say to her. 

With no one to turn to, since she had run away from home to get married, Mwende decided to visit an old friend from school. On her way out she picked up a bottle of water that she had left standing on her table. On her way out she took a sip of the water, disliked it for tasting funny and threw the bottle away. That was the last thing she remembered. 

Waking up three weeks later in a hospital a doctor told her how lucky she had been. A good Samaritan had seen her collapse as she walked and got assistance to take her to the hospital. Mwende was quite sure who and why she had got poisoned. Her in-laws wanted the house and property left by her husband. 

After being discharged, she traveled back to her hometown in Kituyi carrying nothing but the clothes she wore on her back. 

The journey to Fulfillment

“How did you manage to survive, get an income and become the woman you are today?” I ask her.

“At first it wasn’t easy, I suffered from the side effects of those drugs. Later on, I did menial jobs for a small fee.”

Through her hard work and determination, Mwende scraped enough money to purchase a plot where she currently resided. 

“The Goat Foundation gave me hope for a prosperous future that I frankly believe in,” says Mwende with a smile. 

My two goats have been through two gestations. I have five goats. I gave one out to a needy friend. I hope that by the end of the year, I will add two more goats to my herd. If all goes according to plan, I will use these goats as collateral to get a loan and open a salon in town. 

Then she told me one of the most astonishing things I have heard in a long time. 

“My salon will offer free hair services to needy children. I will give one free service for every customer that I serve” she says confidently.

“How can you afford that?” I ask her, still stunned. 

“Don’t worry about that. The universe has plenty of abundances. You give to receive, and I believe blessings will keep coming my way as long as I keep giving.” 

She smiles brilliantly and rises to signal the end of our interview.

What a lady!