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

Video Positive Messaging Helps Revamp Ethiopia's Image

In country once connected with war, poverty, famine, headlines now focus on fast-growing economy, diplomatic reputation More

Russian Activist Thinks Kremlin Ordered Nemtsov's Death

Alexei Navalny says comments of Russian liberals who think government wasn't involved are 'nonsense.' More

Video Land Disputes Rise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers 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.
Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Imagei
X
Marthe van der Wolf
March 03, 2015 9:03 PM
Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.
Video

Video Land Disputes Arise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Ugandan police say there has been a sharp increase in land disputes, with 10 new cases being reported each day. The claims come amid an oil boom as investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers. Meanwhile, the people who have been living on the land for decades are chased away, sometimes with a heavy hand. VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
Video

Video In Russia, Many Doubt Opposition Leader's Killer Will Be Found

The funeral has been held in Moscow for Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was assassinated late Friday just meters from the Kremlin. Nemtsov joins a growing list of outspoken critics of Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin who are believed to have been murdered for their work. VOA’s Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Simulated Astronauts Get Taste of Mars, in Hawaii

For generations, people have dreamed of traveling to Mars to explore Earth's closest planetary neighbor. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that while space agencies like NASA are planning manned missions to the planet, some volunteers in Hawaii are learning how humans will cope with months in isolation on a Mars base.
Video

Video Destruction of Iraq Artifacts Shocks Archaeologists

The city of Mosul was once one of the most culturally rich and religiously diverse cities in Iraq. That tradition is under attack by members of the Islamic State who have made Mosul their capital city. The Mosul Museum is the latest target of the group’s campaign of terror and destruction, and is of grave concern to archaeologists around the world. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More