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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. 

 

The Goat Foundation: Widows have a reason to smile

UNPRECEDENTED PROGRESS FOR KENYAN WIDOWS

Progress Beyond Expectations

The Goat Foundation crossed milestones and made history in groundbreaking achievements that reflected the intention of their vision. By offering a pair of goats valued at $100 per family of widows, the foundation changed stereotypes about widows and transformed the thinking of entire communities about wealth and wealth creation.

A notable achievement was in the diet of families of widows who received these donations. They acquired food security and a chance for a balanced nutritional diet. The milk taken from goats was a crucial source of protein when consumed. The manure from goats was spread around vegetable gardens and this led to increased crop yields. The variety and resilience in food availability acted as insurance against starvation and hunger. 

Sustainable development brought by socio-economic empowerment

Sustainable development brought by socio-economic empowerment

Due to proper and regular feeding habits, children became healthier and were less susceptible to common infections. Healthy households implied that money that could have been spent on seeking treatment was saved or invested. Children were now able to attend school regularly, as absence due to prevented illnesses was reduced.

Education, Health and Nutrition

As mentioned earlier, families of widows started attending school regularly and were not sent home for lack of school fees. The family could now afford to sell their farm produce to pay school fees, with the knowledge that milk from goats could be harnessed to supplement their diet. 

School attendance brought new standards of hygiene, safety awareness and government recognition. In Kenya, it is illegal for a school-going child to be employed as a laborer, married off or subjected to any form of exploitation. This guaranteed legal protection to the children of widows.

The Goat Foundation has noted the uptick in commerce and vocational activities in some villages. It follows that before these donations were made, traditional players in the market were familiar with each other’s needs and trading became routine and even unprofitable.

The sudden infusion of new capital and market for goods and services revived industries that had sat idle for years. Basket making, weaving mats, fishing and a host of local industries sprung up to compete with one another. 

The social awareness that attended the emancipation of Kenyan widows made communities around them seek out other forms of social injustices and uproot them. An example is the legacy shops that for ages extorted their customers by charging exorbitant prices because of their monopoly.

The arrival of competing businesses mentioned earlier meant that old shopkeepers were shunned and new shops that offered fair competitive prices became the new hit. In the end, it benefited the rest of the community who were now able to access more goods at cheaper prices.

Environmental Sustainability & a Green Economy

These donations are also able to help widows and their families mitigate the socio-economic impact of climate change in their lives. Goats are a hardy breed and can survive drought conditions. During bountiful rains, the crops will do well and during drought, the goats would thrive, so families were cushioned against these two extremities.

In a community whose reliance on cultivated land was reduced by a fraction, there was less land cleared for agriculture and more trees planted. The practice of goat husbandry in these communities, therefore, meant that the impact of natural disasters such as floods was reduced as vegetation cover protected the soil from being washed away during heavy rains.

Children’s Rights

Widows' children have opportunities for education, training, balanced diet and legal protection.

Widows’ children have opportunities for education, training, balanced diet and legal protection.

A crucial and demonstrable impact of empowering widows through the donation of goats was the protection of children from exploitation. Families no longer required their young ones to work for food. Children could now spend their time at school or playing.

As widows became empowered and acquired a say in the community, they were now able to protect their daughters against gender-based violence, female genital mutilation and early marriages. Sexual exploitation that was visited upon needy girls especially young widows and daughters of widows was eliminated as they now had the economic means to fend for themselves. This had the impact of reducing HIV transmission, child trafficking, unwanted pregnancies and school drop-out cases. 

Clearly, a lot has been achieved, but there is more still to be done. The generosity of The Goat Foundation partners, and donors is what brought about this success.