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.
- Pass laws guaranteeing the widow’s right to ownership of land and property of their dead husband.
- Rigorous enforcement of this law and punishing of lawbreakers.
- Community sensitization and education about the rights of widows.
- Offer micro-finance solutions to widows so that they can start small businesses and diversify their income.
- 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.