By Plaxedes Sibanda, HARARE, January 24 (The Source) – Loss of property and land by widows, mainly to in-laws is contributing to over 70 percent of Zimbabweans living in poverty, a report released by the Human Rights Watch on Tuesday showed.
Widows routinely loss land and property soon after the death of their husbands with little chance of justice because of ignorance and the cost of obtaining justice.
The 52-page report by the watchdog entitled: “You Will Get Nothing,’ Violations of Property and Inheritance Rights of Widows in Zimbabwe,” is based on interviews with 59 widows conducted across Zimbabwe’s 10 provinces between May and October 2016.
This is despite the fact that Zimbabwe in 2013 approved a new constitution that approves civil, registered customary and unregistered customary marriages. The Zimbabwe Constitution of 2013, Section 17 (1)(c) guarantees equal access to property and land to men and women.
The report found that widows in unregistered marriages have been the main victims of the land and property grab.
According to the 2012 census, over 587,000 women — about 14 percent of all women in Zimbabwe — are widows.
According to Zimstat, as at April 31 2016, an average Zimbabwean lived on $3,22 and 72 percent of the population lives under the poverty line with women being the most affected.
“In many of the cases brought to the attention of Human Rights Watch, knowledge about property rights, inheritance rights, and civil and customary law on marriage were major obstacles to protecting widows’ property,” read the report by HRW, an independent non governmental organisation.
Legal fees and lack of resources were also cited as the barrier for widows to access equal rights to their property.
“Going to court can be expensive, and processes can take years to complete. A lack of basic resources means that even relatively minor court fees or transportation costs can put legal remedy out of reach for many widows,” said HRW.
The average consultation fees to a legal practitioner is $50 while appearance in court is $130. Property cases can be resolved over six months or more.
The report recommends the alignment of marriage laws, property laws in line with constitution.
Zimbabwe should “commit to implementation of the constitution and national laws for widows’ equal inheritance rights by amending laws and regulations and repealing all laws that violate women’s property rights under domestic or international standards, including African standards,” read the report.
Former minister in the government of national unity between 2009 and 2013 and member of the National Assembly Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga told the meeting to launch the report that she had a joint will with her late husband.
“I am an activist, I had access to information and to the best lawyer. My lawyer was Beatrice Mthethwa. I had access to the courts and by then I was a Minister… I woke up one morning with nothing except a suitcase,” she said.