WHEN 61-year-old Grace Chiwone talks about the death of her husband, Aggrey, there is pain in her voice.
The pain is not only caused by the loss of her husband, but also the bad treatment she received from her in-laws.
Grace’s husband, Aggrey, who died in 2001, was the only breadwinner in the family.
“He took care of everything and just gave me money for food and other household items,” says Grace.
When Aggrey died, she left all the funeral arrangements to her brother-in-law, handing over her husband’s bank cards and documents of all the property and estates to him.
Two months later, when she requested tuition fees for her child, she discovered that her brother-in-law had drained all the accounts.
“He took all the money and he said the house and furniture belonged to his brother, as I had never worked a day in my life,” she said.
Four months after her husband died, she and only child who was five years old by then, were forced to move out of their farm house in Makeni area close to the Islamic Centre. Her late husband’s sold the house.
Grace had lived very well with her late husband, an auto mechanic by profession.
Upon his demise in a suspected food poisoning incident, the entire family rose up in arms against Grace and she could not help but watch as her home was rummaged through and literally all belongings carried away by the husbands relatives.
"Women, widows, are taken advantage of in Zambia,” says Michael Chanda, deputy project director of the USAID-funded Support to the HIV/AIDS Response in Zambia (SHARe II) programme. “It is our right; men says. As men we can do what we want. We paid (a dowry) for you. We paid a lot of money, a lot of cattle to your parents. We're not releasing you. You belong to us'.”
She says it was a scene to behold yet a lesson for many people in Zambia and on the African continent.
Bereavement is a social fact in any culture but reactions and practices relating to this vary from culture to culture.
Although widows constitute a large proportion of the adult female population in most Zambia communities, systematic investigation is missing.
The result is that much of the scanty pieces of information there is on widowhood practices are mere raw and unprocessed information hence the need to galvanize more public discourse and action on the subject.
When asked why she did not take the matter to court, Grace says had no confidence in the courts because one of those involved in taking property worked at the court.
Zambia’s constitution, supported by international law, emphasizes equal rights for women.
But paper rights are difficult to realise in societies where inequality is a long standing tradition, with men largely confirming that assets of women are ceded to the husband on marriage.
Institutions where women and widows are instructed to seek redress and justice, regarding inheritance issues are scenes of contention between paper rights (as enshrined by law) and ‘living laws’ (internalized by culture).
“I tried to go to organizations that advocate for women’s rights but because I didn’t have money to get there more frequent as requested, I ended up abandoning the mission,” Grace says.
Because she did not fight her rights on inheritance of her husband’s property, Grace now has to fend for only son, 21 year old Anthony Chiwone who end-stage renal failure, which is a total shutdown of his kidneys.
As if Grace did not have property, now she has to beg from well-wishers transport money to take her son to hospital three times a week for the routine filtering of his blood on a dialysis machine.
The dialysis machine filters blood to remove excess water and waste products from the kidney.
The situation that her son is going through is that delicate such that medical doctors have recommended that her only son should undergo transplant in Indian.
A thing Grace cannot afford and this makes her miss her late husband the more.
“My son’s sickness has only compounded matters for me. Being a single parent hasn’t been easy, but neighbours and friends have been very helpful in ensuring that my son and I keep up,” Grace says.
In Zambia in Southern Africa, a group known as Women in Law and Development Africa (WiLDAF) and other women’s right advocacy organisations do engage in legal education of women in relation to inheritance and family laws.
Currently, it is a crime in Zambia for anyone to interfere with a dead person’s property or take it away, before the court has decided how the property is to be distributed.
But because of ignorance and the stress involved in bringing up the case, many victims give up before getting to the court.
(Picture caption: Grace Chiwone stands on the outskirts of a makeshift home where she is now abandoned)
(Picture credit: Doreen Chilumbu)
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