|To:||(Recipients of ‘women-rights|
|Subject:||Discrimination against widows|
|Date:||Thu, 18 Nov 2004 16:10:50 +0000|
From: "Lucinda OHanlon" Below is a contribution from Vanessa von Struensee, JD, MPH concerning discrimination against widows. Widows - both child and adult in Tanzania, as in many other parts of the world, face discrimination on a regular basis. In many African countries social and legal structures are the result of three coexisting cultural layers: The traditional, the colonial, and the post colonial economic, social, and political structures, rendering unviable the current sustained blanket application of traditional cultural practices unrealistic and unjust to a majority of African women, whose voices are not yet fully represented in national policy debates today. Though family patterns, on which the traditions were based, have drastically changed, customary laws of the past are still applied. While some may argue that the forced entry of African traditional societies into the capitalist economy has been imposed by colonial imperialists, the fact is these changes exist, Africa has been transformed and adaptation is necessary, and an idealization of the traditional past with an extended family th! at no longer exists in its traditional form is not helpful to creating the responsive institutions for Africa today. The extended family is not a static unit, but a dynamic entity customized by persons to fit their purposes. In discussing the role customary law should play in modern-day Tanzania, Rwezaura stated, "after conducting field research in Mara and other regions of Tanzania I am more than ever convinced that social and economic change has transformed our respective societies to such an extent that it is no longer safe for any court to apply any rule of customary law without first checking whether or not its application promotes justice". Customary laws and practices, if ever appropriate can no longer be justified in Africa under the guise of protecting the extended family, even if customary laws and practices were ever reasonable and justifiable in the past. A rejection of the customary rules of inheritance today by the growing women's movement in the continent stems from their inability to deal with changing circumstances in Africa. The impact of colonialism, urbanization, globalization, and the emergence of modern states in the continent have produced irreversible social, cultural, and economic changes in the continent which cannot be readily ignored. Inheritance rights are a critical issue for women because traditionally in many African countries, rather than offer protection to widows, common law and statutory laws in the country perpetuate the discrimination against them. The experiences of African widows range from disinheritance and forceful deprivation of property to the mandatory observance of harmful rituals.