Speaking to IPS from her modest grocery store in Jericho Estate, Nairobi, Chazima recounts how in the early 1990s, her husband sold the house they had bought together without her knowledge.
"My husband and I owned a modest home which we had bought from the city council. But one frosty morning, my six children and I woke up to loud bangs by rowdy youth who had been hired to evict us from the house.
"To my shock I was informed my husband and had sold the family home without my knowledge. Nor I had seen the money he received from the sale," she recounts.
Attempts to seek redress proved futile because she had no legal claim to the family home since she had no proof of her contribution to buying the house.
The new constitution provides for the elimination of gender discrimination in law, customs and practices related to land and property.
"My mother who is sick took time to travel and go and vote," says women’s rights activist Ann Njogu. "She said that finally, with the new constitution, she would have the ability to own land and have her rights in marriage whether during the union or after divorce."
New dawn for women’s rights
Njogu is the chair of the Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (a non-governmental organisation aimed at confronting the low awareness of women’s real needs and rights in society). She says the new constitution will protect women’s rights to matrimonial property.
Under Kenya’s previous law, inheritance was governed by customary law, often preventing women from inheriting property from their parents or laying claim to joint assets when their husbands’ died.
"This is a historic moment for the women of this country who have for years battled with their in-laws in succession cases," Njogu says.
A new Bill of Rights also provides that all marriages shall be registered under an Act of Parliament. This means that even customary law marriages will be certified, protecting women’s interests in disputes between a widow and her in-laws over property.
Currently, in the case of customary marriage it is the in-laws who attest to the existence of the union since they are the ones who oversee the traditional wedding. When embroiled in a succession dispute with such in-laws, it is highly unlikely they will assist the widow and her children.
In the new dispensation, all marriages will be officially registered. Women will also be protected from claims by other women who turn up following a man’s death, claiming to have been married to the same man under customary law and demanding a share of his estate - a common occurrence (...). (With the courtesy of IPS).
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