News / Africa

DRC Widows Carry Heavy Burdens

A widow works as a porter at a market in Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo. (VOA/Nick Long)
A widow works as a porter at a market in Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo. (VOA/Nick Long)
Nick Long
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, many widows of soldiers who were killed fighting rebel group M23 last year are trying to collect their husbands’ or partners’ pay.

In principle, the widows of Congolese soldiers are entitled to payments from the government based on their late husbands’ earnings. Many women who were left at a military camp in Goma when the army retreated from the city last year now are claiming this entitlement.

Josee Ikwalankwi, coordinator of a group that works with widows at the camp, said that many of them have not yet received a payment from the army. Some, she says, do not know in what name their husbands collected a salary, while others don’t even know if their husbands are alive or dead.

The United Nations' mission in Congo, MONUSCO, has been trying to help. Ouedrago Sereme Asseta, who works for MONUSCO’s gender affairs unit, said there are conditions for a widow to receive a DRC army pension.

Widows' pension

Most of these women don’t realize, she said, that to qualify for a widows’ pension they need to show their marriage was officially recognized. She warns soldiers’ partners that living with a soldier for up to five years as a girlfriend doesn’t make you his wife.

DRC army spokesman Colonel Olivier Hamuli told a slightly different story, saying the army recognizes marriages that are acknowledged as such by society, which means the women do not have to be legally married to the soldiers to qualify for a pension.

Members of Congolese Women's Association, who have been widowed by conflict, are reflected in a window during their meeting in the town of Rutshuru in North Kivu, east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, May 2012.Members of Congolese Women's Association, who have been widowed by conflict, are reflected in a window during their meeting in the town of Rutshuru in North Kivu, east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, May 2012.
x
Members of Congolese Women's Association, who have been widowed by conflict, are reflected in a window during their meeting in the town of Rutshuru in North Kivu, east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, May 2012.
Members of Congolese Women's Association, who have been widowed by conflict, are reflected in a window during their meeting in the town of Rutshuru in North Kivu, east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, May 2012.
He said widows are receiving regular payments if their papers are in order. But he added that some claimants were not the soldiers’ real wives, and in cases where soldiers’ records’ were not computerized it can take a month or two for the claims to be processed.

Asseta of MONUSCO recommends civil marriage to all wives, of both civilians and soldiers. That way they stand a better chance of defending their rights under Congolese law, especially if they become widows.

For example, she said, the new Congolese family law recognizes a woman’s right to inherit a quarter of her late husband’s property, whereas traditional marriages do not.  According to custom in Congo and throughout the region after the husband has died, the widow usually has no right to his land.

Defense of rights

According to many activists, most Congolese women are ignorant of the law or unable to defend their rights in court, so many widows are still evicted from their homes by their husbands’ relatives. Without property they find it difficult to obtain loans and often are forced to take the most menial jobs, said Asseta.

She said in Bukavu, the biggest town in South Kivu province, all the porters who carry 100-kilo bags of maize or other produce from the port to the market are widows. It is the hardest and worst-paid work, said Asseta. She emphasized it is work that in a sense dishonors these women, and yet they are obliged to do it for next to nothing.

VOA interviewed a group of these porters at a market in Goma. Most of them said they were widows. Mugisho Irenge explained why she did the work.

"I carry this load because I don’t have money," she said. She said if she had a bit of funds she could start up as a trader, but since she doesn’t - and she has children to feed - she literally has to carry the heavy load.

Asseta told VOA that hardly any of the aid agencies or NGOs in the DRC have programs specifically targeting widows. Some argue that to create groups specifically for widows could marginalize them further.

This could be the reason why there are hardly any widows’ associations in Goma. There are a few in rural areas that seem to have been organized by people from Goma, who employ the widows as laborers.

It is unclear whether widows benefit from creating their own groups - but no one else seems to be making their needs a priority.

You May Like

US Imposes Sanctions on Alleged Honduran Drug Gang

Treasury department alleges Los Valles group is responsible for smuggling tens of thousands of kilograms of cocaine into US each month More

At 91, Marvel Creator Stan Lee Continues to Expand his Universe

Company's chief emeritus hopes to interest new generation of children in superheroes of all shapes and sizes by publishing content across multiple media platforms More

Photogallery New Drug Protects Against Virus in Ebola Family

Study by researchers at University of Texas Medical Branch, Tekmira Pharmaceuticals is first looking at drug's effectiveness after onset of symptoms More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Nancy Bolan from: Kinshasa
April 10, 2013 7:07 PM
Congratulations to the author for writing such a touching and true piece on this topic.

I would appreciate if the author could contact me as I know him from GVA and reside in Kinshasa now.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebolai
X
George Putic
August 20, 2014 8:57 PM
While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls For Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid