Jesse Rudy is field office director of International Justice Mission operations in Uganda. The opinions expressed are his own.
A male relative intent on stealing Susan’s small patch of land in rural Mukono, Uganda, arrived at her very modest brick home in the dead of night. A loud crack jolted Susan’s grandchildren awake.
A second crack sounded, shaking the whole house. Mortar and dust rained down. The front of the house crumbled. Something silver flashed. Then a voice said, “Let me kill this lousy woman.”
Susan and her grandchildren fled for their lives.
Separated from home and her land, Susan could not cultivate her gardens, and the pigs she reared and depended on for income died in her absence.
For most of the thousands of East African widows and orphans who experience the crime of succession-related property grabbing, gardening provides a major – if not sole – source of food and livelihood.
Without her land, Susan found herself unable to provide for herself or her grandchildren: no school fees for the children, no money for medicine, no food and no home.
Succession-related property grabbing may not be a “familiar” crime in the West – but it is a devastatingly common one throughout Africa, subjecting its victims to hunger, deprivation and violence.
The United Nations (U.N.) reports that 30 percent of Uganda’s widows are victims of this crime. In the rural district where International Justice Mission (IJM) Uganda works, 55 percent of widows and orphans surveyed indicated that they had been subject to property grabbing attempts following the death of their husband.
But this crime is not inevitable, nor is it unstoppable. When a woman’s property rights are protected, not only is she protected, but so are her family and her community.
International Justice Mission works in Uganda and Zambia to ensure that victims of illegal property seizure, or those at risk, receive the full protection of the law.
Today, Susan and her grandchildren have returned to their land, rebuilt their home and received compensation for the terror inflicted on them. Susan is not only able to grow her crops again, but is now managing a small new chicken business.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day this year and give particular emphasis to the unique role rural women play in the fight against poverty and hunger, let’s keep fighting for and alongside women like Susan. To learn more, go to www.ijm.org.