Lawyer wants law reviewed to protect widows who remarry

Human rights lawyer at Ripples International John Baidoo. [Bruno Mutunga, Standard]

Jennifer Muriungi’s husband died in 2010 and since then, she has been embroiled in a never-ending dispute with her in-laws over property they owned with the husband in North Imenti, Meru.

Now she is Mrs Dennis Mutwiri, after she remarried in 2019.

She says she moved to her second husband’s home in the same sub-county a few months before they tied the knot in the church in Meru town in July 2019.

But her decision to sell the house she built with her first husband did not go down well with her in-laws, who have now blocked her from accessing the homestead.

Mutwiri, a retired teacher, said she and her first husband owned a hardware shop in Meru town, a fueling pump and two parcels of land, including the one they built their house on.

Though she was able to get her husband’s savings from the Sacco where he also served as a director, her in-laws would not let her sell the house.

“My in-laws know very well that I contributed more money to build the house than my late husband. He did not have a lot of money because he only had a small hardware shop when we started dating,” she said.

“It was from my savings and a loan from my employer that we got resources to build the house.”

She said she also gave Muriungi some money to buy more stock for the hardware shop, which expanded after a few years.

“My in-laws have blocked me from selling the house that I helped build,” she said.

“I am not interested in the two parcels of land we owned with Muriungi, but I wish I can be allowed to sell the house. I need the money.”

Fearing for her life, she has stopped going to the house as she mulls going to court.

“I do not like taking someone to court but I am being forced to because my in-laws are now threatening to harm me if I step there again,” she said.

According to John Baidoo, a human rights lawyer at Ripples International, many women who remarry after the death of their husbands have challenges in inheriting properties they owned.

Ripples International recently lodged a petition against sections of the Succession Act that deny widows the right to inherit property when they remarry.

Meru High Court Presiding Judge Justice Edward Murithi found that Section 35(1) (b) and Section 36(1) (b) were unconstitutional.

Baidoo argued that sections of Section 35 and Section 36 of the Succession Act denied a widow the right to their dead husband’s property if she remarries.

“The State shall not discriminate directly or indirectly against any person on any ground, including race, sex, pregnancy, marital status, health status, ethnic or social origin, colour, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, dress, language or birth,” Baidoo said.

Baidoo and human rights activists in Meru lauded the ruling by Justice Murithi.

“Prior to the constitutional suit, widows who remarried lost all rights to property of their deceased husbands,” Baidoo said, adding that the Succession Act of Kenya under section 36 targeted widows and subjected them to unequal treatment and discrimination despite the fact that the 2010 Constitution, as well as the Marriage Act of 2014, frowned upon this.

“The general effect this provision had on widows was that it made them settle for consensual unions instead of getting formalised marriages for fear of losing their property to extended family members.”

Baidoo said what was needed was a concerted effort from all stakeholders such as the Law Reform Commission, and other multi-sectoral agencies to ensure permanent redefinition of this portion of the law.