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CAST OUT BY CUSTOM – A WIDOW’S TRIUMPH OVER CUSTOMARY LAW

A woman peeking through the window of a clay house balancing a basket and headwrap on her head

The Goat Foundation has been at the forefront of highlighting widows’ triumph over adversity and circumstance. It is always hopeful and delightful whenever we encounter a case where communities work together to help one of their own emerge from debilitating conditions. Such a case was that of Mary through whom it was demonstrated that retrogressive customs and traditional laws that discriminate against widows could be overcome.

Mary had been married to her husband for ten years before he was diagnosed with cancer. At the time, she and her family did not have enough money to transport him to a reputable hospital for treatment. John died just a few weeks after his doctor confirmed that his cancer had progressed to stage 4.

Shortly after her husband’s death, Mary’s life quickly became unbearable. Things became difficult. She couldn’t send her children to school or feed them. Everything she and her late husband had spent years building was now under threat of being taken away. In their customary law, women were not allowed to inherit from the estates of their deceased husbands. To enforce that, they harassed her and ordered her to vacate the property where she and her husband had lived for nearly ten years.

She endured the suffering until she learned that a local Kilifi town community-based non-profit organization that looks after the plight of widows could assist her with her case. She showed up there, and the organization assisted her in getting legal representation, which resulted in a favourable ruling that allowed her to stay and raise her children in the home where they had been living with her late husband.

The court’s decision reprieved Mary as it gave her and her kids a place to live and call home. Soon after, the organization organized training on business skills so she could slowly rebuild her life, provide for her family, and send her kids to school.

With her small savings, the training, and the enablement she received from the organization, Mary opened a small shop that sold household items to the community. Using the business skills that she had learnt; she was able to grow the business to the point that it could feed her children and pay for their school fees

Many women, like Mary, experience the same fate following the passing of their husbands. Most of the land is typically owned by men. Most traditional families do not write wills, and in the event of a man’s passing, all land and property are reclaimed by the male relatives, mainly brothers and uncles rather than their wives or children

The help that Mary received from the charity organization, went a long way in reviving the hopes she had of taking care of her family. It ensured that there was no hunger and that her children attained the highest form of education. The training she got to start her business will help her grow and flourish in business and ensure that there is no poverty in her household.

The Goat Foundation remains at the forefront in championing for widows’ rights and looks forward to the day when widows will be regarded as equal family members and therefore achieve the Sustainable Development Goals for social and economic justice for women. We are continually expanding our partnerships and associations throughout Africa and with the help of our partners, we believe we will transform the lives of millions of widows.

HOW ADULT EDUCATION IS EMPOWERING WIDOWS IN RURAL KENYA IN THEIR EFFORT TO OVERCOME MARGINALIZATION

A bolack woman wi

TGF October newsletter – Empowering Widows with education to overcome marginalization.

The Goat Foundation has taken note of how the Kenya Adult Learners’ Association (KALA) plays an important role in promoting micro-enterprises and advancement in the informal business sector as a way of alleviating widows’ unemployment and high rural poverty in Kenya. We are cognizant of the fact that helping widows in the pursuit of socio-economic emancipation is a multi-pronged approach that requires the input of many stakeholders. 

 

The World Bank states that strong job growth is only possible with the legitimization of the informal business sector, which can increase household productivity. Accordingly, the Economic Empowerment Programme implemented by KALA tackles the vulnerability of farmers to climatic conditions – a serious challenge to development in rural Kenya – by equipping widows with skills which allow them to engage in other income-generating activities besides farming.

By focusing on widows in rural areas as a target group, KALA’s literacy programme addresses some of the country’s major problems: educational shortcomings, poverty, unemployment and social marginalization.

 

The Economic Empowerment and Functional Adult Literacy Programme has been implemented by the Kenya Adult Learners’ Association (KALA) in various rural areas of Kenya. The programme aims to provide hands-on training to economically empower widows by equipping them with basic literacy and functional skills. Economic empowerment refers to entrepreneurship and management training, which enables the target group to pursue income-generating activities. Such activities lead to important supplementary income, thereby reducing the dependency of households on income from weather-dependent activities such as farming.

Aims and Objectives:

  • Improve the lives of widows through functional literacy by increasing the enrolment of learners in literacy classes;
  • Facilitate entrepreneurship and management training for widows and facilitators;
  • Improve networking and sharing of experiences among groups/members through peer learning exchange programmes;
  • Initiate a capital savings grant to widow groups;
  • Provide learning and teaching materials for the literacy classes; and
  • Monitor and supervise small businesses and literacy classes.

 

The first area is the empowerment of widows’ groups through the application of economic and literacy skills (functional adult literacy).

The second aspect is based on developing economic literacy skills where adult learners acquire reading, writing and arithmetic skills, while KALA integrates supplementary entrepreneurship and management training outside the traditional reading and writing context.

The third component of the KALA literacy programme is a supplementary kitchen-garden programme, which is meant to improve widows’ knowledge of agricultural production and food provision. In addition to contributing to widow’s empowerment, the kitchen-garden programme has domestic importance, as women are the main providers of food at the household level. Due to unpredictable weather patterns, subsistence farming cannot always guarantee a sufficient food supply, or indeed a surplus income. Issues of poverty and hunger in rural areas are therefore alleviated through the kitchen-garden project.

 

The fourth aspect focuses on health. In order to improve health conditions in rural areas, the KALA literacy programme includes primary health education, as well as information on HIV and AIDS control, prevention and care. Widows also learn about the care of orphans and vulnerable children, enabling them to provide children with basic health care services.

The empowerment of widows through literacy has meant that they have become more actively engaged in decision-making at the household level, and widows can pursue and advocate their own interests. One impact of the programme has been the alleviation of women’s marginalization within society, as improved literacy has given widows’ a greater level of social, economic and political status.

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. 

 

HOW CBOs ARE ENGAGED IN THE STRUGGLE AGAINST THE ‘CLEANSING RITUAL’ IN WESTERN KENYA

A woman seated on a chair with ash smeared on her face. She is carrying a small child crying and beside her is a short girl standing

Widows are subjected to cleansing rituals in some parts of Kenya

When a husband passes away in western Kenya, it represents not only the loss of a spouse but also the passing of a provider for the family and a change in the woman’s standing within the community. In the traditional culture, the widow must undergo purification following the spouse’s passing.

The ritual requires widows to have sex with strangers who are sometimes HIV-positive and do not use protection. The sexual cleansing is done as part of the transition process for the widow to become eligible to remarry and is also conducted to cleanse the widow of evil spirits resulting from the death of her husband.

After the cleansing has taken place, the widow is expected to be inherited by a man, traditionally an in-law. In recent days, in-laws are now less willing to inherit a widow due to the economic burden, which has led to men who are not relatives asking for payment to perform the rituals.

Entrenched tradition, poverty, and hunger are some of the main challenges that these community organizations face in the quest to stop women from agreeing to participate in the cleansing. Poverty makes the widow agree to participate in the ritual so the man can take care of her and the children.

The CBOs that are non-profits are now supporting women’s groups that have come together to reverse the traditional practice. The groups meet once a week to offer solace, and advice to each other while preaching against the ritual to other women in the community.

As much as these women are doing something great to meet and try to stop the rituals, it’s not easy for them in the community. Many have faced death threats and some have been attacked for speaking against the practice.

The CBO has also formed men’s Barazas to try and speak to them and discourage the practice. The tradition, though, is so entrenched in the community that it’s very difficult to try and talk them out of it. The Kenyan government has also tried to enact an act that protects women against domestic violence and promotes gender equality but the act still goes on.

One of the interventions that the community-based organizations are carrying out to assist the widows in having a business of their own that can support their families is equipping these women with the skills necessary to enable them to make a living. Through their women’s organizations, the CBOs provide charity grants to help them launch businesses that say no to poverty and hunger.

The Goat Foundation is committed, in line with the sustainable development goals, to helping widows support their families through economic empowerment. We give the widow’s family a pair of goats as part of our contribution. Our intention is to give the recipients two goats—one male and one female—in the hopes that they will breed and produce additional goats.

Widow Poverty

KENYA: HUNGER CRISIS ACROSS WIDOWED HOUSEHOLDS AS PRICES OF FOOD COMMODITIES GO UP. 

Widow Poverty

Widowed households across Kenya have asked the government and supporting organizations to cushion them from an impending hunger crisis. This is after the price of essential commodities skyrocketed. The government recently reduced the prices of maize flour by 2 shillings which is still insignificant.

17% of Kenya’s population lives below a dollar a day. Widows living in low-income households make up part of these statistics. To afford maize flour, a staple meal in Kenyan households, these populations have to earn twice as much. The World Bank warns that the high food prices have triggered a crisis that will drive millions into extreme poverty, magnifying hunger and malnutrition while threatening to erase hard-won gains in development.

An unending cycle of poverty.

Given this, rising food prices have a greater negative impact on low- and middle-income households as they spend a majority of their earnings buying food.

“Everything is so expensive. I have 5 children who I have to take care of alone. My husband died and left me with nothing so I have to work very hard. But all of my earnings go to buying food and paying school fees.” narrates Joyce Tabitha, a widow beneficiary of The Goat Foundation.

Like Joyce, many other widows are experiencing the impact of inflation. Left alone to cater to households with some having no sources of income; they can barely afford food.

When the gross income of a population goes to expenses rather than investments, debt arises. If not, the quality of life will not be improved as all earnings are spent. This creates a wealth gap as the poor continue earning to meet their basic needs.

The Goat Foundation support

In the face of this crisis, The Goat Foundation in partnership with Financially Fit has deployed short-term and long-term responses to address food insecurity. This is by strengthening the capacities of widows across rural communities to efficiently cater to themselves.

So far, we have;

  1. ) Donated 500 goats to 250 widowed households living in extreme poverty across Kenya.

     2.) Partnered with Financially Fit to educate our beneficiaries on social enterprises they can grow from our goat donations.

Equally, we are working to partner with agricultural-based organizations to help us in educating widowed farming communities on best practices to increase their total farm outputs.

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.

 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.