“It is customary!” I always thought that phrase was fossil. As a country made of different tribes, culture will always be part of what makes us a unique people. Even though some of the practices have become banned by law, FGM for example and wife inheritance, some communities are still adamant to change. Wife inheritance is still widely being practiced today with very few women coming forward about it even though a large number of them are being abused and their rights violated.
Zipporah, 35 years old was an orphan. Her parents died when she was in her early teenage years. She was taken in by her grandmother who ensured that her needs were met. Though they were poor, Zipporah managed to clear her Primary Education. When she hit 20, Zipporah got married to Paul with whom they had three kids.
After 15 years of Marriage, Paul died. His family, as culture would have it came and took everything in Paul’s house without caring about his wife and children that he had left behind. Zipporah had no job and was left penniless without anything except for the clothes she had worn and with three children.
Shove came to push and she decided to go to Paul’s family to claim her property and ask for help. She was welcomed by verbal abuse by Paul’s Family and they blamed her for his death. They told her that she was cursed and they did not want her evil spirit roaming around them. Paul’s mother told her that the only way to rid herself of the evil spirit was if she was married to Paul’s younger brother.
It was hard for Zipporah because she did not believe in those archaic beliefs but it was also the only choice she had (so she thought) because she had no job and was left with three children. After being with Paul’s younger brother for 5 months, Zipporah was pregnant and the family chased her out of their home with her children.
Not only was Zipporah pregnant but she had contracted HIV from Paul’s brother.
Wife inheritance is being quietly practiced even today. Most women are forced into the marriage by the family of the deceased. Not only is this practice absurd but it is also in violation of Human rights .Some cultures would leave you with nothing when a spouse dies because they believe that whatever he bought belonged to him and his family. You were only as relevant as he was alive.
Zipporah had three kids with Paul and when he died, his family took everything from her and Paul’s younger brother gave her HIV and left her pregnant. Some people will tell you that it was ‘Customary’ but really how far do this customary laws apply?
The judicature Act, chapter 8 of the laws of Kenya recognizes the customary law as one of the sources of law in Kenya. But it also states that (section 3) customary law applies for as long as it is applicable and not repugnant to justice and morality or inconsistent with any written law.
There are also laws on property sharing between married couples. When your spouse dies unless it’s his/her will no family member has a right to take away that property because of some ‘beliefs’. If that were to happen you’re advised to go report to the police.
Let us all break the silence on Gender Based Violence.