HomeNewsWidows vulnerable to patriarchal practices

Widows vulnerable to patriarchal practices

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A LOCAL human rights watchdog has produced a report indicating that the majority of Zimbabwean widows are still vulnerable to societal and patriarchal practices which deny them the right of inheritance to their late spouses’ wealth and property.

By PAIDAMOYO MUZULU

Human Rights Watch, in a 53-page survey report released in Harare yesterday, noted that grabbing of property, including homes and land, from the surviving spouses was still rampant in many communities.

The report, titled You Will Get Nothing: Violations of Property and Inheritance Rights of Widows in Zimbabwe, observed that the grabbing of property was not limited to poor families.

Bethany Brown, a researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report, said: “The impact of property grabbing on widows is devastating. Women, whose property was taken from them, spoke of homelessness, destitution and loss of livelihoods.

“The government of Zimbabwe should urgently take steps to protect widows from this practice.”

Speaking at the event, former minister Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga said she also fell victim to the practice when her husband, Christopher Mushonga, died eight years ago.

“I had all, I was an activist, access to information, the best lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, and a powerful position as a minister, but after the death of my husband, I woke up and had absolutely nothing,” she said.

Misihairabwi-Mushonga said that the big problem in the country was not the laws, but the culture and understanding of marriage in an African context.

“In the African context, marriage is communal, you are married to the clan, and one is always a minor and your protection is from the husband. The moment he falls away, there is a succession,” she said.

According to the 2012 census, Zimbabwe has about 587 000 widows.

Brown recommended: “The government should take immediate steps to register all marriages, including customary unions, reform its marriage laws, and raise awareness of the property rights of widows.

“This would help protect thousands of women each year against the injustice of being summarily thrown out of their homes when they become widows.”

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that at least 70% of women in rural areas are in unregistered customary unions, which makes them more vulnerable to property-grabbing in-laws.

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