February 01, 2015

Legal Aid Helps a Widow and her Orphaned Children Keep a Roof over their Heads

February 2015

Ms. L is a Congolese widow and a mother of three. Her husband of 41 years died in July 2014, leaving her with their three daughters—ages 3, 6  and 7—and few resources. A resident of Kitutu, South Kivu Province, Ms. L had to mourn her loss while contending with economic challenges that were aggravated by traditional practices that discriminate against women.

ABA ROLI staff Attorney conducting mediation on a widow and orphan-daughters inheritance rights.

A few months after her late husband’s funeral, her in-laws turned to the lega practice—a custom which denies inheritance rights to women. “[My in-laws] threw us out of the place we were living—our only home,” she said. Accompanied by her parents and other family members, she tried to reason with them and move back into her home. “I did all I could to get my in-laws' mercy,” she said. “But no one would hear me.”

In South Kivu, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI), supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development, implements a program that combats discrimination and gender-based violence by increasing women’s access to justice and by sensitizing communities to local and international laws, including the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women. ABA ROLI educates community members on cultural practices—such as lega—and how they contradict national and international anti-discrimination laws. Additionally, ABA ROLI staff attorneys provide legal advice and services to victims.

Ms. L heard about ABA ROLI’s work and visited the Kitutu office. She said, “Finally, we got informed by those who have benefitted from your help.” Ms. L added that she came to “see if [ABA ROLI] could help us get back to our home, the only heritage from my daughters’ deceased father.”

An ABA ROLI staff attorney advised her on applicable laws and her legal options. Ms. L opted to go into mediation with her in-laws. The attorney mediated between the two parties, explaining relevant local and international laws, which mandate equal treatment of male and female children. Following a few mediation sessions, the in-laws chose to avoid litigation and agreed to relinquish the home to Ms. L and her daughters.

To learn more about our work in the DRC, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at rol@americanbar.org.