Happy International Widows’ Day! According to the UN June 23 is a day to celebrate widows and to recognize the hardships that they have overcome. IJM Kampala took this mission to heart and threw our first every International Widows’ Day event to bring awareness to the widows that we work with and the injustices that they face.
IJM Kampala works specifically with the widows and orphans in Mukono County. In Africa, widows are especially vulnerable to land grabbing. Land grabbing is where a family or community member forcibly takes land from the rightful owner. Widows are usually the victims because they no longer have the protection of their husbands and are looked down upon in society. This is also usually a violent crime and can include threats of physical harm and even death. If a widow refuses to leave the land that is rightfully hers then the perpetrators will resort to any means possible to get her off of the land. This is all illegal under Ugandan law, but because it is tied up with property many police officers, lawyers, and judges just see it as a property or family issue and not a criminal issue.
IJM has been working in this area for the past 14 years to fight for the rights of the widow and educate the community and justice system on the criminal aspects of land grabbing. Since the field office opened up IJM has helped more than 3,500 widows, put on more than 30 trainings for police, and has formed great bonds with the prosecutors and judges during this mission. Today was a celebration of that success. But, more than that it was a celebration of the amazing transformation that community has been through!
The day started off with a march down the streets of Mukono. There was a band that led the way, followed by police officers, the Chief Magistrate, men of the community, the widows, other lawyers and magistrates, and the IJM staff. The fact that this march even happened is crazy in and of itself! Even a year ago many of the people that participated in the march would not have recognized the need to fight for the widows or that the struggles they were going through were more than just family problems. But, today there was an amazing turnout that shows just how far the community has come.
After the march there was a program with dancing, music, and speeches by IJM, an IJM client, the Chief Magistrate, the Deputy Director of Human Resources for the Uganda Police, and then someone from the Prime Minister’s office. IJM was able to thank all of the people in the community that have helped this mission come to life and who have supported us along the way. The IJM client told an amazing story of empowerment and survival. The Chief Magistrate was able to talk about the court system and how they are fast tracking land grabbing cases that come to them in order to bring justice to widows quicker. The Deputy Director of Human Resources for the Uganda Police talked about the special taskforce that they have made to address land grabbing and then promised to help any widows that has had her land taken from her. And the Prime Minister’s representative talked about the dignity of the widow and how she should be protected and treasured in a community. Most of this was said in Lugandan and had to be translated for me. But, the speeches weren’t for me, they were for the community, the widows, and all of the people who have strived to change the justice system!
Today was such an amazing day of empowerment and it was amazing to see the community come to surround and lift up the widows. There were so many widows who attended as honored guests and so many others that came to support the widows and the mission. I have only been here for about 2 weeks, but I can already see the impact that IJM has made in the community and the massive successes that have happened. Happy International Widows’ Day indeed!