Tanzania: Widows struggle as relatives grab property (Trust)

| January 27, 2014

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Elizabeth Paul remembers how she suffered two years ago after her husband died. Not only was she grieving, but her father-in-law kicked her out of her home.

Mrs. Paul recalls, “I was so helpless, I couldn’t resist; and the anguish of losing my husband was so overwhelming.”

The 42-year-old from Majengo in the Dodoma region of central Tanzania had been married for over a decade. She says her father in-law accused her of being responsible for the death of his son. She adds, “He was very angry with me. He did not even talk about the future of my children.”

Mrs. Paul says her brothers-in-law became embroiled in a family feud as they jostled over her late husband’s property. They grabbed the farmland, the livestock and the house. But last year brought some hope. A friend advised her to take legal action, with the help of a Tanzanian NGO called Women Wake Up.

Mrs. Paul cannot afford legal costs. But, she says, “I hope they will help me recover some of my assets.”

Women Wake Up strives to help women, and widows in particular, understand property ownership rights. Burton Mwidowe is a trainer at the organization. He says, “Our aim is to help people find justice.  We target women and children because they are [the] most vulnerable.”

Women’s property rights are enshrined in the Tanzanian constitution, which establishes the equality of all persons. A paragraph in Article 24 states: “Every person is entitled to own property … it shall be unlawful for any person to be deprived of his property for the purposes of nationalization or any other purposes without the authority of law which makes provision for fair and adequate compensation.”

Women’s land rights are also guaranteed by specific laws in Tanzania. The Village Land Act of 1999 explicitly states that the rights of women to acquire, hold, use and deal with land are equal to those of men. But despite this law, land rights and fair inheritance remain elusive for many women.

Research on Poverty Alleviation is a Tanzanian NGO that produced a study in 2010 entitled Widowhood and Vulnerability to HIV/AIDS and Related Shocks. It showed that grabbing land and property from widows is still widespread in Tanzania.

About half of the widows interviewed during the study said that in-laws and other relatives had prevented them from inheriting their husbands’ property.

Yefred Myenzi is a researcher with the Tanzanian land rights group HAKIARDHI, or Land RIghts. He says, “Most women have access to land through their spouses but do not own (it) on their own. In many instances, widows and divorced women are being harassed by male relatives.”

Nyambona Mawalla is a 33-year-old widow from Mvumi village in Dodoma. She was recently denied a share of her late husband’s assets because she refused to accept her tribal tradition and be inherited by a brother in-law.

Mrs. Mawalla says: “I reported the matter to a local [government] office but I was told to sit with elders to resolve the matter as a family, since I was married under customary arrangement.”