How Writing a Will Can Help Protect Women’s Rights in Kenya

For many women in Kenya, the death of their spouse comes with other losses. These include the loss of their marital home, property, land, social status, dignity and at times, even their children. The widows end up very negatively affected, psychologically and economically.

In 2018, the United Nations estimated that about 10% of the widows living in developing countries live in extreme poverty. Apart from the usual discrimination and stigmatization that come with being a widow, many of these women are routinely evicted from their matrimonial homes as their in-laws forcefully seize their late husband’s properties. Additionally, In some cultures, it is common for the widow to be denied custody of her children, to be accused of having caused the death of her husband or to be submitted to rituals such as wife inheritance. These practices not only violate the woman’s dignity and autonomy, but it also exposes her to poverty, violence and HIV infection.

One of the best ways to protect women’s rights in Kenya is to first, encourage couples to be legally married, and then second, to ensure that the couple writes a Will stating clearly how they wish their assets to be distributed after death.

Writing a Will has many benefits for women in Kenya.

A Will can prevent or reduce disputes and conflicts among family members over inheritance. These disputes usually end with the woman receiving nothing. A Will provides clarity and certainty about who is entitled to what. It avoids the interference of customary laws and practices that may discriminate against women. A Will can ensure that a woman and her children are adequately provided for after the death of her husband. It can secure her access to land, housing and other resources that are essential for her livelihood. Finally, a Will can empower the woman to make her own choices and exercise her rights. She can easily reject unwanted inheritance relationships and still inherit property from her husband.

While writing a Will is crucial in helping to protect women’s rights in Kenya, there are still a number of challenges that need to be addressed.

  • There is a lack of awareness and information. Many people in Kenya are not aware of the importance and benefits of writing a Will, or the legal procedures and requirements involved. Some people still have misconceptions and fears about Wills. They may believe that Wills are only a preserve for the rich or that writing one brings bad luck or death.
  • There is a lack of access and affordability. Many people in Kenya don’t have access to legal services and many others simply cannot afford the costs associated with writing a Will. Others don’t have formal titles and documents that prove their ownership of their property, so they may feel that writing a Will isn’t feasible for them.
  • There is a lack of enforcement and protection. There are many people in Kenya who don’t respect or follow the provisions of Wills. Apart from challenging the Will in court, some use violence, intimidation and even corruption to influence and manipulate the outcome of inheritance cases. This means that women trying to claim their rights may have to overcome resistance from their in-laws, relatives and community members.

Therefore, writing a Will may not be a sufficient solution, but it is still a very necessary step in the fight to protect women’s rights in Kenya. It will require the support and cooperation of various actors and institutions such as:

  • The government: The government should enact, strengthen and implement laws and policies that promote women’s rights, especially in relation to inheritance. The government should provide legal aid and education to the public, and ensure that the judiciary and the police are impartial and accountable.
  • The civil society: The civil society should advocate and campaign for women’s rights, and raise awareness and sensitization among the public. The civil society should also provide legal and social services and support to women, while monitoring and reporting on any violations and abuses. 
  • The media: The media should inform and educate the public on the importance and benefits of writing a Will, and how that can help with the challenges and barriers faced by women. Positive stories on how some women have been able to claim their rights because of the existence of a Will should be highlighted. 
  • Religious and Cultural Leaders: These leaders should teach on the importance of respecting and upholding women’s rights, while discouraging harmful practices (like wife inheritance) that violate the same. Religious and Cultural leaders can also help facilitate dialogue and reconciliation between family members when it comes to inheritance matters.

Writing a Will can be a simple but powerful way to protect the rights of women in Kenya.

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