In a chilling report released mid last year, Kenya was named among countries in the world where there is rampant oppression of widows. The study, World Widows Report launched at UN headquarters in New York, revealed that Kenyan widows suffer from, among others, systematic seizure of property, discrimination and evictions by their late husband's families.
The report by The Loomba Foundation says Kenya has an estimated eight million widows. The report, posted on Loomba Foundation website www.theloombafoundation.org, names Bangladesh the country that has made the lives of widows most unbearable in the world.
Other abuses that widows suffer include being abandoned, evictions, as well as being subjected to traditional 'cleansing' rituals. Others, especially the poor ones, suffer from sexual abuses and forced re-marriage.
"Customary cleansing rituals, where a widow is forced to drink water that has been used to wash the corpse of their husbands and have sex with their husband's relatives continue to spread venereal diseases and violate the dignity of widows in many Sub-Saharan countries," says the report.
The Loomba Foundation established every June 23 as International Widows Day to raise awareness of the issue of widowhood before the day was ratified by the United Nations to address the poverty and injustice millions of such women and their children face across the world. The day was first celebrated in 2005.
So bad has been the situation that a couple of non-governmental organisations such as Kenya Legal and Ethical Issues Network on HIV and AIDS (Kelin), Mizpah Widows Ministries International, based in the Los Angeles Califonia and United Nations Global Commission on HIV and the Law have had to come to the rescue of long-suffering widows, especially in Nyanza and Western Kenya where widow mistreatment is quite rampant.
Most of these organisations have pioneered new approaches for widows and their children to easily obtain access to justice. Some even mediate inheritance disputes between widows and their in-laws to reinstate widows and children in their homes and family land.
For instance, working with customary legal structures in Homabay and Kisumu Counties, Kelin has helped reconstruct community-based mediation systems so that villagers and diehard traditionalist respect Kenyan law and human rights.
Kelin holds community dialogues with widows, elders, and government officials to get their buy-in for the project. They also conducted trainings for the elders and widows on the human rights provisions of Kenyan laws relating to property.
Kelin is reported to have so far taken more than 150 cases to court, involving disinheritance, of which the vast majority have been successfully resolved with women and children back on their land.
Mizpah Widows Ministries International is actively involved in disputes involving widows in Central Kenya. They build houses for widows, green houses, give water pumps