Laws Uphold Rights for Women and Children
Marriage and inheritance laws can be complicated, but knowledge is power so Basilwizi Trust has started hosting workshops about people’s rights. They wanted communities to be aware of the law as well as equip them with advocacy skills to lobby for change. While it’s often tradition and cultural beliefs that encourage some of the most problematic issues around marriage and inheritance, the law provides a way for Basilwizi to discuss them and promote individual rights. Traditional leaders, church leaders, young people and women all attended the first workshop facilitated by a few law experts and a Zimbabwe Republic Police officer. Thirty-four people, mostly youth, sat together listening closely to two women who spoke about their experiences after the death of their spouses. Their in-laws had taken their property and because the community believed that surviving in-laws had a legal right to inherit all property, the women didn’t realize they could respond any other way. The cattle and scotch carts they lost are still alive and working, they could see them on their in-law’s property. Meanwhile, they struggle to bring income into their homes and to provide for their children. After learning about their rights, they now vowed to take their issue to the courts even though the incidents happened some years back.
Frank Mudimba, the Director of Basilwizi said, “To the community, the workshop was an eye opener and has empowered participants to take the lead in spreading the legal position as it relates to the law on deceased estates. The empowerment is likely going to empower women and children to demand and protect their legal entitlements to their estates and those of their deceased parents.”
Reporting cases affecting children and widows to the police is not an easy thing because of traditional beliefs and practices. Knowing the police can help is a new insight. Mudimba says, “the workshop achieved a major milestone in that it enabled the Zimbabwe Republic Police, through the public relations officer, to assure the community on the role they could play in cases where widows and orphans’ rights are wantonly violated by greed relatives of the deceased.”
The marriage and inheritance law workshop also helped the community to understand the requirements needed for a person to officially marry. Attitudes about marriage are highly influential and deep rooted in culture and traditions. Often the law provides more protection than these norms. Everyone in the workshop understood that it was an offence to follow culture on issues pertaining to marriage of a minor, which didn’t surprise staff at Basilwizi. What they were hoping for was to put pressure on parents or guardians who accept bride prices for marrying a minor. This way, the community will discourage the offence rather than ignore it.
There are three types of marriage in Zimbabwe: the unregistered customary union, the registered African law marriage and the civil marriage governed by general law. Civil marriage provides the most protection to children because it requires an age restriction. They also offer more protection to widows from property grabbing during inheritance disputes. The young people at the workshop admired the civil marriage and Basilwizi staff built on this interest further by discussing the problems of polygamy and early marriages that particularly affect the lives of young girls.
Basilwizi is encouraged by the workshops and the response they’ve received. They plan to offer many more of them, changing their culture to further protect women and children and to help them to protect themselves. As more of their community members are influenced and excited by these ideas, particularly young people, they know they can make the changes they hope for in the very near and distant future.
Basilwizi is a unique organization in Zimbabwe. It was formed by the Tonga people themselves to spearhead development in the Zambezi valley and is cherished by many for their work with young people on HIV and AIDS and teaching of the minority language, Tonga. They are a leader in the community with support from the central government, local and traditional leaders. Firelight has supported Basilwizi Trust in Zimbabwe since 2007.