I spent the summer working with International Justice Mission (IJM) in Gulu, Uganda. IJM has 17 field offices that seek to transform the justice systems in Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia. IJM Gulu provides free legal work for widows and orphans who are victims of property grabbing. Due to living in a post-conflict zone, many women and orphans have been driven off their land by family members, neighbors, or the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Without their land, many women have no means of provision for themselves or their families. Thus, to protect women in Northern Uganda requires protecting their land rights. IJM has been fighting diligently for four years in Gulu and has helped numerous widows and orphans.
I was in Uganda for almost two months and spent much time traveling to and from work on the back of a small motorcycle referred to as a “boda boda” and eating ground maize called “posho” with “g-nut and greens” soup. More importantly, however, I spent two months interviewing and meeting with the widows with whom we work to hear their stories and prepare reports for our attorneys to take to court.
I was also assigned a project for the office involving Domestic Violence (DV) in Northern Uganda. According to studies, over 70% of women in Northern Uganda face DV in one form or another during the course of their lives. DV constitutes a form of discrimination and oppression in Uganda, specifically Northern Uganda. The predominant ethnic group in Northern Uganda, specifically in the cities of Gulu and Amuru, is the Acholis. Acholi women live with an inordinately high risk of being a victim of DV due to the Acholi custom of treating a wife as property, the prevalence of alcoholism in Acholi men, and the harsh realities of living in a post-conflict zone. Thus, I wrote a memo on the affects of DV on women and how that could be combatted in Acholi culture.
Before this summer, I had very little interest in DV. However, after the research I did in order to complete this project, my life has forever been changed. I have already found places to volunteer in Virginia this year and am thrilled to see the impact that this summer will have on the course of my life.
IJM has two offices in Uganda, Kampala and Gulu. The Gulu office serves the Gulu and Amuru districts in Northern Uganda. In Gulu and Amuru, IJM focuses on cases of land grabbing that impact widows and orphans. IJM seeks to restore the property, liberty, and security of land grabbing victims in Uganda by working alongside local leaders.
My second major assignment of my internship involved studying succession law in Northern Uganda. Succession law concerns “the transmission of the rights, estate, obligations, and charges of a deceased person to his or her heirs.” Succession law can be referred to as inheritance law.
Uganda’s 1995 Constitution guarantees that “[a]ll persons are equal before and under the law” and “shall not be discriminated against on the ground of sex….” Further, the Constitution also provides “[w]omen shall be accorded full and equal dignity of the person with men.” However, both statutory and Islamic laws in Uganda support inequality in inheritance.
Often distribution of estates upon a father or husband’s death is left to clan elders, religious leaders, or relatives. In these cases, a widow may not have a voice in deciding who gets the property. Unfortunately, many religious leaders, clan elders, and relatives do not know and do not follow the succession laws of the land. Because many people do not know the laws of succession in Uganda, the property is often distributed based on customary law, or the traditional law of the tribes and clans, which calls for property to be passed down from one generation to the next through male descendants.
When a woman marries, she becomes the property of the male by the paying of the bride price to a woman’s family. By treating the woman as property, the male’s clan can deny her inheritance rights when the man dies and can condition her continued occupancy of the land to her willingness to marry a male member of her deceased husband’s clan. Thus, under customary law if the clan does not follow succession law, the only way a woman can inherit her land is to remarry a male member of her deceased husband’s clan. Unfortunately, a woman may have to share the land with other women as customary law allows men to marry more than one woman. Thus, when the husband dies, the woman inherits only a portion of the property in accordance with the number of wives the man had before his death.
Under Ugandan law, the closest male heir is the administrator and successor of the deceased husband’s land. Therefore, many women do not own property and have no land of their own. Because of the lack of land ownership, a woman often endures abuse and may be driven off the land by her deceased husband’s relatives. A woman may lose not only her land, but also her children. Unfortunately, the Constitution of Uganda and the Succession Act of 1972 as written do not always protect a woman and her inheritance.
This post was written by a Center for Global Justice student intern. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect those of Regent University, Regent Law School, or the Center for Global Justice.