A Widow’s right to matrimonial property

Justine Badaru (in light green t-shirt) shows the UGANET lawyer Kabanyoro Judith (In Suit) and a local council official the family land which was under dispute. Winning her family land back has inspired Badaru to form a widows’ activist group in her village to assist women in her community seek legal support.

When Justine Badaru a 38 year old,  resident of Kijogoro Parish, Miirya Sub County, Masindi district lost her husband to an HIV/AIDs-related illness, she was left with no independent source of livelihood.

Illiterate and HIV positive herself, the mother of four was looking at a bleak future as a widow.

Soon after her husband’s funeral, rumours started circulating in the village that she had killed her husband. The rumours which spread like a wildfire left Badaru dealing with not only grief but also with stigma and isolation as her friends shunned her as the rest of the village called her a witch and a murderer.

Badaru’s in-laws also joined in the fray, and informed her that since she had killed their son, they would not let her go away with his property.

“They told me to pack only my personal belongings get my four children and leave their son’s property. They said that I was the reason their son was dead and that I did not deserve anything of his,” she narrates.

Key Highlights

  • Women are usually the first to know their HIV status because of their continuous and consistent interaction with the health care system.
  • With an unsupportive legal environment, the rights of women will continue to be violated leaving them to the clasp of community and society to judge them.
  • With UNDP support, UGANET has since 2013 handled over 30 land disputes and eviction cases, of these seven were for children under 18 years, four for men and over 19 cases reported by women

The rejection and stigma was made worse by that fact that her and her children had nowhere else to go.

“Before my husband’s death, my in-laws forced me to go back to my parents’ home to receive care because I had developed temporary blindness. My husband was also ill at the time but because of my helpless situation, I had to leave. However after about 3 weeks of staying away from my marital home, I heard from around the village that he had passed on and had been buried," Badaru recalls.

On hearing the news of his death, she immediately got onto the next bus headed to Masindi to find her two children who she had left behind nursing their ill father.

That is when she realised her in-laws’ intentions and in a bid to ensure the safe upbringing of her children, Badaru reported the matter to the local council chairman. The local council chairman could not do much to help her because in this community, society norms supersede the situations at hand.

However she didn’t give up hope, instead Badaru approached the Resident District Commissioner’s office where she was advised to seek for legal support from Uganda Network on Laws and Ethics (UGANET).

At the UGANET office in Masindi, she was attended to by Joseph Byarugaba, who filed a case of property grabbing for Badaru and her four children with the courts of law.

The judge presiding over the case initially advised that the matter be solved outside court through mediation, since it was a domestic matter.  However, the mediation process didn’t yield any positive results because none of Badaru’s in-laws was willing to attend any of the mediation sessions.

The case was returned to court after the mediation efforts had failed. This time round, the court ruled in favour of Badaru her husband’s relatives were immediately advised to vacate the house and hand her all late husband’s belongings.

Badaru’s plight is not an uncommon one in our society, although she was more fortunate than most other women. Many never regain access or rights to matrimonial land lost after divorce or the death of a spouse.

With the current prevailing legal regime where enactment of laws such as the HIV Prevention and Control Act 2014, the plight of women and girls still hangs in balance. Women are usually the first to know their HIV status because of their continuous and consistent interaction with the health care system especially when they are expecting or have children. With an unsupportive legal environment, the rights of women will continue to be violated leaving them to the clasp of community and society to judge them.

As part of the efforts to reduce HIV prevalence in Uganda, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has been working in partnership with UGANET a civil society group to promote human rights based approaches in the response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Uganda. The organisation provides legal and social protection to vulnerable persons particularly women and girls on matters related to property and land rights, and recently successfully spearheaded the civil society effort to campaign against the criminalization of HIV/AIDS in Uganda

With UNDP support, UGANET has since 2013 handled over 30 land disputes and eviction cases, of these seven were for children under 18 years, four for men and over 19 cases reported by women.

Rejuvenated by UGANET’s the support, Badaru has formed a widows’ activist group in her village to assist women in her community seek legal support especially for those in the same situation as she was few years back.

Supporting women such as Badaru is important as it’s been shown that although women in Africa contribute 70 per cent of food production and account for nearly half of all farm labour, they lack  and 80–90 per cent of food processing, storage and transport, as well as hoeing and weeding. Yet women often lack rights to land. Women involvement and participation in ownership of land is vital if a country is to mitigate HIV incidences through economic empowerment.

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