In the wake of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, problems related to women’s rights to property and inheritance in Kenya have escalated as women are widowed by AIDS. Through activities supported by the Emergency Plan, this critical issue has been brought to the attention of leaders in Nyanza Province, the region with the highest HIV prevalence and highest number of AIDS deaths in Kenya. In this province many women are widowed and have little access to food or shelter. Supporting their property and inheritance rights addresses one of their greatest areas of vulnerability, providing the stability needed to raise children and take care of their own needs.
In 2005, the Emergency Plan, through USAID’s POLICY project, supported a workshop with the Kenya National Commission for Human Rights to address the problem of women’s inheritance and rights of property in the Luo ethnic group in Nyanza. The workshops provided an opportunity for the Luo Council of Elders, women leaders, political leaders, the provincial administration, and local and national organizations to explore the inheritance problem. Community women presented their personal experiences of the discriminatory practices in their culture, as well as those in Kenyan law. The project organized eight participatory community workshops, where widows and orphans vividly described the experience of losing land and other inheritances.
The community meetings resulted in immediate alleviation of inheritance issues through traditional and local government structures. Prior to this Emergency Plan-funded project, the 150 elders from this community had never focused on women’s rights. The Council of Elders now wants to restructure their organization to better address the plight of women and orphans and property ownership and inheritance. This work has helped to fundamentally shift the power dynamics between the sexes and lessen the ignorance and distortion within the Luo community, leading to a strong partnership in addressing the plight of women and orphans and vulnerable children. As of September 2005, the Luo Council of Elders reported that they have resettled over 20 women and their children back on their family lands. One elder who had initially objected to this project now proudly reports that he has helped to resettle four women. “I am now converted, thanks to this project,” he stated. This has indeed been a fundamental cultural change – one that the Emergency Plan is working to replicate in many other places.