An Empowered Widow Becomes a Civic Rights Advocate
76-year-old Mary Christine Ariokot lives a largely quiet life in Acowa Village in Amuria district with her daughter-in-law and two grandchildren. Her homestead of two huts is surrounded by farm land on which she grows cassava and other crops to sustain her family. A few meters from her hut, a lone cow grazes in the small banana plantation. She says the cow provides milk for her grandchildren and herself when there is extra to spare. Mary gives off an aura of contentment - understandable as hers is a story of justice finally served after many years of being beaten down.
“One Saturday, I was listening to Radio Veritas when I heard a program conducted by Amuria District Development Agency (ADDA) on citizens’ rights and responsibilities,” she narrates. “I listened very carefully and heard the panelists emphasize that property rights are for all and that every individual had a right to own land regardless of the age, sex, marital status.” Mary adds that the panelists also touched on access to justice which they said was a right for both women and men. “I got really concerned because for long I had been suffering and unable to use the land left behind by my late husband”.
Shortly after the death of her husband in 1989, Mary’s brother-in-law had seized two plots of land belonging to her deceased husband and barred her from using them. He threatened her saying that the clan had given him all the authority over his late brother’s property and that whatever was left behind including farm land automatically belonged to him.
“I had tried many times to beg the clan and my brother-in-law to allow me cultivate my land but on hearing this programme, I realized that it was actually my right. I straight away got courage to officially report the matter to the local authorities,” Mary says. Following intervention in the case by ADDA, the local leaders wrote to the brother-in-law requesting him to hand over the land. In response, Mary’s brother-in-law preferred to discuss the issues as a family and in a clan meeting he finally accepted to hand over the two plots of land. “They have realized that I now know where to report any matter that will arise and I am sure that is why he decided to give me back my two gardens,” Mary says. Now that she has reacquired her land, she plans to plant even more maize, ground nuts and cassava on one of the plots. “For now, I will leave the other plot because it has a borehole which serves the entire community and especially school children from the nearby primary school,” Mary exclaims.
Augustine Opolot, Programme Manager of ADDA explains that there is a high demand for information on constitutional rights in the region. “Even when we do the radio programs, the citizens want more which is why we often engage them in community meetings where we discuss civic rights and responsibilities extensively and follow up cases of violation.” During one of the civic education sessions conducted by ADDA, Mary testified to the advantages of having information on one’s rights, where to report in case of violation and how to pursue justice for those cases. “I urge other widows to always listen and attend these civic education sessions for they are very helpful,” She remarks.
Mary is the spitting image of determination. Despite her advanced age, she has volunteered to serve as a civic educator in her region. The confidence she has gained since successfully regaining her land is evident even to family members. “They never used to allow our mother to talk even in family meetings but these days, she is bold and her voice is heard,” Ayupo Janet, Mary’s daughter-in-law says.