Nelly Chebor, 45, lost her husband ten years ago and since then, she has been battling to inherit his property.
The mother of three says she has gone through a lot of tribulations after inheriting the land her husband left behind. She has not able to till the piece of land.
“Immediately my husband died, even before we buried him, my mother in-law and brothers-in-law wanted me out of this land. They took away the cows and the goats we had,” recounts Ms Chebor.
She says that after the burial, her in-laws never allowed her to have her husband’s death certificate.
“We had been married for 21 years by the time he died. Since 2009, I have never planted anything on the 3.8 acres piece of land he left behind.
“The last time I did, my in-laws sprayed the maize with some chemical, causing them to die. I now survive by selling samosas,” says Ms Chebor.
She says life has not been easy for her especially because she knows she has property, but she has been disinherited.
Land ownership has been a sensitive issue in Kenya since pre-independence, with most communities only allowing men to own land. Ms Chebor’s case is just one among many that widows in Kenya go through.
Fortunately, she is among more than 100 widows from Uasin Gishu County who have benefited from a training aimed at empowering widows on the provisions of the succession Act Cap 160 and self-representation.
The program implemented by Centre for Human Rights and Mediation (CHRM), an organisation that advocates for human rights, and sponsored by Amkeni Wakenya in partnership with UN, UNDP and EU, will run for three years.
Ms Chebor says the training has given her hope of finding justice. She, however, wishes it came earlier.
And Ms Chebor is not alone.
Zena Chepkemboi, 32, was widowed in 2014 after seven years of marriage. Five years since her husband’s death, she has not known peace. Her sisters-in-law now want her to surrender the 28 acres parcel of land that belonged to her husband, and move out of their matrimonial land.
“My parents-in-law and brothers-in-laws all died and so last May, exactly five years after my husband passed away, my sisters-in-law asked to take away the land completely,” says the mother of two.
Ms Chepkemboi, who is a beneficiary of the training, adds that they have since been subdividing the land and selling to private individuals without consulting her.
She notes that before the training, she had lost hope of ever finding any justice because the process requires a lot of money that she didn’t have.
“We were trained on how to file for the succession cause and on self-representation in courts without hiring a lawyer,” she says.
Nick Omito, the Chief Executive Officer of CHRM, says the widows were trained on provisions of the Legal Aid Act, which was passed into law in 2016.
He says the training was necessary because many widows are disinherited by their husbands’ relatives but the society keeps mum.
“Late last year, an influx of widows visited our office, with complaints of disinheritance threats. In a month, we could get up to four or five complains,” says Mr Omito, adding that many widows lose property due to lack of information.
“Widows need to know that when a death certificate is taken away from them, they should reapply for it and fight for the property that is rightfully theirs,” he says.
Through the training, the CHRM, also stressed on the importance of mediation to solve most cases of disinheritance, and that the process is fast, cheaper and does not involve a lot of paper work.
They, however, pointed out that when mediation doesn’t yield any results, the legal process is the way to go.
“Many cases of property inheritance, in the past, took long in the courts because then they were only heard at the high courts. But now that chief magistrate courts have been allowed to handle these cases, we expect the backlog to reduce,” says Mr Omito.
The human rights organisation intends to organise more trainings to empower widows.
Mr Omito says they plan to work with assistant chiefs to help in identifying vulnerable widows to benefit from trainings.
Ms Asha Kirwa a beneficiary of the training lauds the organisation for being considerate of widows’ painful experiences.
She wants the government to find a way of helping widows who cannot afford legal fees.
“The training is what we as widows needed. It was a healing process. I realised that what I was going through was better than what other widows at the training went through. I was uplifted,” says Ms Asha.
“Some assistant chiefs, who we run to first, and the courts are very corrupt. They collude with our oppressors to disinherit us. This should not be overlooked,” she adds.