Human Rights Watch (HRW) has appealed to the Zimbabwean government to protect widows who are routinely evicted from their homes by in-laws after the death of their husbands.

Bethany Brown, a researcher at HRW said many widows had found themselves practically destitute after their in-laws evicted them from their homes and seized their property.

“Women whose property was taken from them spoke of homelessness, destitution, and loss of livelihood,” she said in the capital Harare according to a press release on the launch of a 52-page report Tuesday.

The report found that in-laws often told widows shortly after the deaths of their husbands they intended to take over their homes and other property where husband and wife had lived sometimes for as long as decades.

“Before my husband was even buried, my brother-in-law was making moves. He was running around from one government office to another,” 41-year-old, Bethel from Zimbabwe’s second largest city of Bulawayo explained.

She said the in-law managed to claim her husband’s pension money and car.

A similar situation happened to 58-year-old, Deborah, from Mashonaland. Her brother in-law took all her farming land and told her she did not belong on the property.

Most victims of property grabs in Zimbabwe are married under customary law and their marriages are not registered with authorities.

Zimbabwe’s law only protects widows whose marriages are officially registered, regardless of the fact that most marriages in the country are conducted under customary law.

“The government should take immediate steps to register all marriages, including customary unions, reform its marriage laws, and raise awareness on the property rights of widows,” HRW said.

The rights group said this “would help protect thousands of women each year against the injustice of being summarily thrown out of their homes when they become widows”.

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