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

Photogallery WHO Expects Ebola Vaccine Surge in 2015

Official says ‘a few hundred thousand doses’ could be ready by June; 2 drugs already in trial More

Video Islamic State Militants Advance Toward Baghdad

Iraqi capital not under ‘imminent threat,’ US military says, amid worries about foothold More

Video Hong Kong Protesters Focused on Holding Ground in Volatile Mong Kok

Activists say holding Mong Kok is key to the success of their movement, despite confrontations with angry residents, anti-protest groups and police 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.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid