During the marking of International Widows Day on June 23, widows from Migori county came out full blaze to blame their close relatives for perpetrating endless land disputes and championing unnecessary wrangles between them and their in-laws.

The widows claimed that they were being deprived of the rights to own lands they inherited from their late husbands, as their in-laws use wayward means to transfer land ownerships from their possessions.

Doreen Auma from Suna West Sub County in Migori, a widow and a mother of eight, narrated that her husband died in 2007 and that is when problems began.

Her in-laws sold the land she received from her late husband without informing her, only for her to be slapped with an eviction notice.

She explained that her evictors did not even spare her some space for her house, forcing her to rent a living house in Migori’s Oruba settlements.

“Currently I live in a rental house with my six children after my brother-in-law sold the land his brother left for me. I have nowhere to plant crops and hence I rely on manual jobs for survival,” quipped Auma.

Initially, Auma and her late husband were farmers but she turned to doing manual jobs in the town of Migori such as working in the hotel or sometimes vending water after the death of her husband to make ends meet, a job which she said cannot sustain her with her big family.

“After my in-laws took away my land which they claimed the right owners, I had to seek alternative ways of providing for my family that is working in the hotel as a cleaner. A job which is not paying well,” disclosed Auma.

Being unable to fend for all her children, Auma resorted to sending some of her children to her relatives, who she also claim mistreats them and even does not take them to school.

The widow also disclosed that efforts to seek support from her other relatives and her mother-in-law to help her and the kids have not borne any fruit as most of them turn her away while some look down upon her.

“I have tried to reach out to my relatives and even my mother-in-law to intervene and help me in raising the kids but they always turn down my request, branding me as a beggar,”  Auma reported.

No land rights for widows

Not left out in this land dispute melodrama is Carolyn Auma who also hails from Suna West Sub County and recently echoed the serious problems widows undergo in the present society.

She says that after she lost her husband in December 2009, her in-laws grabbed her land, sending her away from home with her three children.

But according to her in-laws, whose opinions were also sought about the disputed piece of land, the land belonged to their brother and not Carolyn, a stand that forced her to migrate to Apida slums in Migori town where she has been depending on her small hotel business.

“My in-laws claimed I have no rights to own any land in their clan as the land only belongs to men that is my husband. I had no option but to move away from the village and seek refuge within Migori town,” reported  Ms Auma.

Consequently, the widows are now appealing to the government to come to their rescue to help them restore what belongs to them. 

Additionally, they cry about being subjected to unending court cases which they cannot afford as lawyers demand hefty charges.

“We are requesting the government to intervene for us in getting what truly belongs to us. We are really suffering as our in-laws are not ready to release our lands,” requested Ms Auma.

The land disputes have pushed a higher number of these women to migrate to urban centres where they try to make ends meet by venturing into manual jobs in town

Unity for Migori widows

According to Ms Dorothy Minyiri, a widow herself and the founder of the Community Resource and Empowerment Organization (CREMO), she has taken it upon herself to unite widows in Migori County, empowering them and advocating for their rights.

The CREMO of CEO laments that land disputes especially concerning widows and their in-laws are full in the rural areas and in the villages of Migori County.

This comes as a result of ignorance among the young widows who do not know their rights to land ownership.

“This issue of grabbing lands from the young widows is very rampant deep in the rural areas as the widows do not know their rights to ownership of land,” says Ms Minyiri.

In most cases after the death of husbands, the in-laws and relatives claim to be helping the widow in managing the resources left especially the land and it is in such moments of sorrow that they take advantage of the widow to transfer the land details from the deceased to them, she told the Kenya Television Medoa News during an interview with her.

Ms Minyiri points out that one of the major problems that they are facing in fighting for the widows’ rights to cultural custom is the Luo culture’s demands for wife inheritance making it hard for the widows to own the lands left by their husbands.

She appealed to the First Lady to the Deputy President of Kenya Ms Dorcas Gachagua, and the patron of widows, to remember the widows in Migori amidst their woes.

“I am appealing to the First Lady Mrs Dorcas Gachagua to remember us as the widows of Migori County as she is our patron. Kindly let her pay us some visit so that we can share with her our predicaments,” appealed Ms Minyiri.

Pro-bono lawyers

Titus Orwa, the Secretary General of Civil Societies in Migori County said that the county has over 6000 widows and the number is increasing drastically.

Orwa encouraged distressed widows to visit their offices, where they can connect with pro-bono lawyers who can assist them with court matters, particularly those related to land disputes, without any cost. 

“I am urging all the widows within Migori County who have land disputes to visit our offices as we will assist them with pro bono laws who will help freely at no cost,” said Mr Orwa.

 Orwa challenged Members of the Migori County Assembly (MCAs) to develop legislation that safeguards widows from the mistreatment of their in-laws.

“We are urging our MCAs to implement a law that will protect our women, especially the widows to help us address this issue of mistreatment among the widows since the current laws do not address these issues,” said Mr Orwa.

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