In 2017, Chiku received the tragic news that her husband had been killed in a road accident, her world crumbled. Her late husbands brothers were there to console and care for her.
However, Chiku did not realise that in fact she was being disinherited in a well thought out strategy used for years by the men in the Central Kenya, where tradition dictates that property belongs to Men. This tradition has created a standard manual and procedure of disinheriting women across the region and has some key features:
Chiku received the news while working on her farm and quickly made her way home to visit the mortuary. She was not expected to view the body because ‘women are weak’ and can be traumatised if they see the bodies of their loved ones. This is the first of many intentional moves to deny Chiku access to any documents and money her husband had in possession during the accident. The key thing here is his National Identification Card, which is required for preparation of the burial permit. Without a burial permit, one cannot proceed with funeral arrangements. This means that Chiku will not be part of any official burial preparations. She instantly looses ownership of the body of her husband and all official documents for burial rights. Simply put, it is the beginning of her disinheriting both the body and ownership of the process of inheriting all the properties she owned with her husband.
The burial preparation meetings are moved from Chiku's house to a common ground in the family compound, where control of burial preparations are firmly in the hands of her late husband’s brothers. Most important at this stage is the setting of a date for the burial and the writing of a eulogy. At this time, Chiku mostly spends her days in bed, mourning the tragic loss of her husband. Chiku’s mental state works perfectly in line with the intentions of the disinheriting manual. The brothers then deliberately fail to mention her in the eulogy, and because of the painful loss of a dear one, "the family" requests that no photos be taken during the burial ceremony. Chiku automatically fades away. On the burial day she is systematically put under the care of hired ‘religious’ women to keep her from participating in the burial. The presiding Church Minister will also be well compensated for a speedy ceremony.
Acquire the Rights
After the burial, and in line with the regulations of registering Births and Deaths; the brothers quickly use the burial permit to acquire the Death Certificate. This sets the stage for application of a grant that they will use to administer their late brothers estate. The process is easy and is open to manipulation as the next of kin is listed by the Area Chief, who was incidentally in the formative stage after the death, and gave the official permit for all burial preparations.
Put on Notice
The court appearance to seek a grant for the administration of the deceased brother’s estate is executed in secrecy. Chiku is unaware that this process is underway. The grant is attained, Chiku’s husbands bank accounts are emptied, and his land is subdivided between his brothers.
After a short while, Chiku is given notice to leave or risk eviction. If she is lucky she may be given a small section of land to live on. If she is not lucky, she may be chased away with deep wounds.
The Vicious Cycle
She returns home where she was born and raised and begins a vicious cycle of poverty as a slave to her own brothers, who expect her to do everything for them in order to live in peace and secure a place to stay on their own father’s land - which she is equally entitled to according to Article 68 (c) iii and vi, in the Kenyan Constitution.
It is in the light of Chiku’s Story that we must reflect on what hinders the enjoyment of Women Rights in Kenya. Women have been restricted to society’s margins. With the 2010 Constitution of Kenya, came the coveted seats of Women Representatives who were conceptualized to legislate for the marginalized. They need to look into these laws and come up with changes that will bring forth a rural Kenya that will also respond automatically to women’s inheritance, as it is with men. Their offices in the Counties must also design programs that will educate women on their rights to property whether it is their fathers land or husband’s land, and even during separation and divorce.
On March 8th2019, the InformAction (IFA) Central Team marked International Women's Day by holding a discussion and debate on women disinheritance and succession in rural Kenya. It revealed gaps that need to be addressed in the Kenyan Laws and we aim to help organize a memorandum that can be presented to the Women Representative in Nyeri, and also National Assembly. Rural women in Kenya need to march and demand for their rights because reasons to protest are many.
By SK Wandimi
InformAction Central Team