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

At Khmer Rouge Court, Long-Awaited Verdict Approaches

First phase of trial, which is coming to an end, has focused on forced exodus of Phnom Penh in 1975 - and now many are hopeful justice will be served More

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities More

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

Downing of Malaysian airliner, allegations of cross-border shelling move information war in war-torn country to a new level 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.
Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
July 31, 2014 8:13 PM
The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.

AppleAndroid