Greetings from Uganda, where I am working with a human rights NGO called International Justice Mission. For most of the summer, I have been working on an educational curriculum designed to inform the community about a widow’s right to inherit land when her husband dies intestate. In Uganda, traditional practices regarding land ownership differ significantly from modern laws of succession. For this reason, the husband’s family or clan, often with the support of local leaders, commonly evicts the widow from her home despite clear law saying she has a right to stay until remarriage or death.
We see many cases involving perpetrators who maliciously and opportunistically take advantage of the vulnerable condition of widows. Yet after learning more about customary land ownership, I realized that land-grabbing is a vestige of clan-based land ownership that can operate even among people who are otherwise law-abiding. Whether based on malice or ignorance, the modern-day practice results in extreme suffering for orphans and widows, who are sometimes left destitute. My hope is that spreading awareness of the law, which is not widely known in rural areas, will help reduce land-grabbing by people of good will who have never seriously considered that a widow might be entitled to retain her husband’s customary land after his death. Moreover, I hope knowledge of the law will influence local leaders to defend widows’ rights.
Last week, we held our first series of information sessions and were able to train over 300 community leaders. One attendee summarized the situation well when he admitted he had been “behind on the law” and thanked us for bringing him current information. The overwhelmingly positive response we received encourages me to believe that increased awareness of the law really could lead to changed behavior.