The Status of Widows in Africa

Kenyan widows

Human Rights are basic rights that are believed to belong to every person regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status. They may also be regarded as ‘moral principles or norms that describe certain standards of human behaviour, and are regularly protected as natural and legal rights in municipal and international laws’. Unfortunately, not everyone enjoys the privilege of having their rights protected.

Widows in some parts of Africa have endured violation of their human rights for many years, and the required changes necessary to shift this reality have not taken place at the speed needed for more tangible changes. Widows are discriminated against and denied many fundamental rights including the freedom of opinion and expression, the right to own and keep property after the death of their husbands, freedom from sexual exploitation, the right to an education and the right to adequately provide for and protect their children. The violence against widows is a cause for concern across many of these countries as widows are victims of physical, emotional and psychological abuse regardless of regions, ethnicity and economic circumstances.

Their health and safety come into question as many widows are forced to take part is burial rights harmful to their health, such as being forced to drink water that their husbands’ corpses have been washed in, scarification, sexual relations with her husband’s relatives and rape. Widows are often deprived of property that they should inherit at the death of their husbands. Property is often repossessed by their late husbands’ relatives, sometimes leaving widows and children homeless. It is not only relatively younger women that are affected as it has also been reported that many older widows in some African countries generally experience violation of their human rights.

Despite the fact that many women are abused and dispossessed, there are sometimes no policies in place to prevent this at the local level.

Why Women’s Rights are Violated?

Women’s property rights violation is often underlined by a number of issues including the lack of awareness on the part of many women about their rights and the provisions in law that could assist them. Customary practices, ineffective law enforcement, societal biases and a reticence as it relates to the general empowerment of women are also reasons the violations continue.

International Laws That Affect Women’s Right

We are an organisation that provides assistance to help protect widows inheritance, including facilitating and directing legal aid and community support. Even where women are not provided for there are international laws that protect the rights of women, such as, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. These laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender and require governments to act to correct the disparities where they exist. Under these provisions women’s rights can be acknowledged and upheld.

What Can You Do

The circumstances of a woman’s economic and intellectual growth can spearhead the development of an entire nation. It is therefore imperative that we stand up, take notice and do something to make sure that widows are aware of their human rights, and the course of action to take when those rights are violated. As we work in the interest of these widows we need your support; it is necessary that you get involved and help us advance change.