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No woman should lose her rights because she lost her husband

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Grinning from ear to ear, Ms Dianah Kamande, a widow from, Nairobi County, Kenya, shakes hands with Her excellency, Margaret Kenyatta, the First Lady of the Republic of Kenya during International widows day held in Nairobi on 23rd June.

The 35 years old mother of two has been a widow for four years now, and lucky to be alive. She is a victim of Domestic violence in the hands of the person she least expected leaving her for dead in a pool of blood. Ms Dianah was physically assaulted with a kitchen knife by her husband, four years ago, one night in an event that saw her hospitalized and her husband hanging himself thereafter.

“Everything was okay until ‘that” Friday night of 19 April when my husband came home late and started assaulting me threatening to kill me, my children and himself. I heard my daughter (Praise) shout, ‘Daddy usituue!’ (Daddy, don’t kill us). Somehow, I managed to stand up and dash to their bedroom where he was holding her, as she struggled to escape, with my other daughter laying on her back, a knife pointing at her.”

I screamed out loud. He must have been shocked because he dropped the knife. The children took advantage of that to run out. He recovered, picked up the knife, and pushed me against the wall. He then sunk the knife into my hand as I tried to defend myself and forced it down, breaking a bone, I would later learn. Luckily, I managed to pull away and run outside.

Dianah woke up in hospital several days later to news that her husband had killed himself thinking that she was already dead. Luckily her children were safe but then she had to start her life over again unsure of where to begin from. She was now a widow at a tender age of 31 and the future seemed bleak.

Ms. Dianah Kamande is introduced to H. E. Margaret Kenyatta, the First Lady of the Republic of Kenya by the Cabinet Secretary at the ministry of public service youth and gender affairs Mrs Sicily Kariuki with UN Women Kenya Country Director MsZebib Kavuma on the background (Photo by UN Women/Kennedy Okoth)

As the world marked world widow’s day on 23rd June, Ms Kamande represents one of the approximately 4.5 million widows in Kenya who go through the daily struggle of facing stigmatization, isolation and negligence from the society in claiming their rights as human beings after the loss of their spouses. This has contributed to high levels of poverty for these women and their families.

“I came back home to an empty house. My in-laws had cleared ever single thing I owned and blocked me of any inheritance with two children to feed and care for citing cultural traditions. To make it worse they had proceeded to take me to court accusing me of killing their son. It was a storm that I walked through with my children against all societal odds.”

According to UN Women Kenya Country Director Ms Zebib Kavuma, these women are stripped of their possessions, left homeless and are vulnerable to abuse and sexual exploitation.

“All around the country, women, who often do not own property, and even where they jointly own it with their spouses, risk losing it all upon his death” She adds.

The Global Widows Report of 2015 estimates that there are 258.5 Million widows globally with Kenya among the countries with over 1 million widows.

Harmful cultural practices like widow cleansing, widow inheritance and right to inheritance are still predominant in rural parts of Kenya which has contributed to the stigmatization.

I needed to find other widows like me and platforms that we could come together under and that is when I came across the former United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon’s statement that emphasised that “No woman should lose her rights because she lost her husband” and that really moved me.

Dianah Kamande is now the Secretary General of a widows support group known as Muungano wa Wajane that seeks to bring together other widows to ensure that they are economically empowered and able to fend for themselves and their families.

Through the support groups, women are grouped into clusters based on their experiences in diverse craftsmanship like salon work, tailoring, bead-work, green groceries among others to harness this skills for their economic stability and self-reliance.

At the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals, is that no goal can be met unless it addresses the needs of the most vulnerable. This has particular resonance for widows who are often among the most marginalized groups in the country.

Through the Muungano ya wanawake support group, Ms Kamande drafted a bill which she presented to the cabinet secretary at the ministry of public service youth and gender affairs Mrs Sicily Kariuki to address issues of eviction of widows from their matrimonial home upon their husbands death, inability of widows to inherit matrimonial property, exposure to life threatening burial rites and customs, physical and emotional violence, and discrimination in law and customary practices that grant women secondary rights dependant on their relationship with men.

“Because of this bill, the attorney general is currently reviewing the law of succession act: – the principle law in matters of inheritance, to align it with the constitution in relation to family, equality and matrimonial property.” Mrs Sicily Kariuki adds

The review process has led to the development of the proposed law of succession amendment bill that addresses the concerns raised in the probation of violation of widows and widowers essential right bill 2016.

H. E. Margaret Kenyatta, the First Lady of the Republic of Kenya acknowledged the disproportionate victimization, neglect, poverty; social injustices and sexual violence that widows face that leave them voiceless noting the significance of the widows day in create awareness.

“Through this day, we can collectively create awareness, lobby for and put in place supportive measures to strengthen the capacities of the families and communities to care for and support widows. This day is about affirming our commitment to be supportive and change their narrative of widows to do more despite the progress.” She reiterated.

Kenya celebrated the widow’s day for the first time last year and this marked the second with commitment and plans to celebrate this going forward.

The Government of Kenya through the Ministry of Public Service Youth and Gender Affairs and in partnership with the United Nations in Kenya have developed a four year Joint Program on the Prevention and Response to Gender Based Violence (JPGBV) aimed at eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls in the public and private spheres. The Joint Program is timely as women are targeted in election violence at higher rates than their male counterparts.

UN Women in Kenya remains committed to championing for gender equality and the rights of women and girls including widows as vulnerable groups in the society through our partnership with Key stakeholders including the government of Kenya through the state department of gender affairs.

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