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Khulumani Support Group Welkom Hosts a Widows SPEAK OUT in Commemoration of National Women’s Day 2011

The event is held at the Thabong Indoor Sports Centre, Welkom between 11:00 and 15:00 on August 9, 2011: Khulumani Declares that Widows are people. They deserve respect. Widows have rights- find out about yours. Widows are heads of families- deal with it!

Tomorrow marks the 55th Anniversary of the historic march of 20,000 South African women to the Union Buildings, Pretoria office of then Prime Minister Strijdom on August 9, 1956. When Ms Lillian Ngoyi, one of the leaders of the march, knocked on the Prime Minister’s door, there was a shout from behind the door that she was not allowed to be there. Ms Ngoyi responded “The women of Africa are outside. They built this place and their husbands died for this.”

Some 55 years later these words continue to resonate with women. Women have built this nation. They made this declaration originally in the Founding Charter of the Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW), adopted on 17 April 1954, when they stated that “there is only one society, and it is made up of both women and men”; that “women share the problems and anxieties of men, and join hands with them to remove social evils and obstacles to progress”; and that women and men share “a common struggle against poverty, race and class discrimination”. This struggle continues into the present for both men and women. Women, however, carry additional burdens. The FEDSAW Founding Charter explained that “there rests upon (women) the burden of removing from society all the social differences developed in past times between men and women, which have the effect of keeping our sex in a position of inferiority and subordination.” Amongst these are “laws, regulations, conventions and customs that (continue to) discriminate against … women, and that deprive women of (their) inherent right to the advantages, responsibilities and opportunities that society offers to any one section of the population.”

On National Women’s Day 2011, widows organized through Khulumani’s outreach activities in communities will SPEAK OUT about the struggles of widows who continue to be affected by practices and customs that discriminate against them as widows and about their struggles to raise children and grandchildren in conditions of poverty. Widows detailed these issues in a preparatory workshop held in Polokwane, Limpopo province during the first week of August. Some of these issues are highlighted in the attached list. The Khulumani National SPEAK OUT for Widows in Welkom aims to highlight the situation of widows in South Africa who continue to suffer discrimination as a result of customs, practices and laws in a country committed to the achievement of “A fully inclusive society free of unfair discrimination, inequality and abuse.”

For more information, please call: Ms Neo Mohoje 073 899 3657 or Mr Tiisetso Lebere 083 569 4278 from Khulumani’s Welkom Organising Committee or Dr Marjorie Jobson, Khulumani’s National Director 082 268 0223

Notes on the Discrimination against Widows identified by Khulumani in Preparing for a Speak Out for Widows:

1. Widows have a right to decide their own lives. Widows are not children. They are decision makers. Widows have lost their husbands, not a lifestyle. Protect your family- make a Will now. Culture around inheritance hurts widows. Widows have a right to remarry.

2. Widows continue to be treated is harshly discriminatory ways. Widowhood can represent a "social death" for women because it robs them of their status and tends to consign them to the margins of society where they suffer discrimination and stigma.

3. Widows tend to be least protected by the law because their lives are determined by local, interpretations of tradition, custom, and religion. It is not uncommon for a widow, especially in the context of the HIV pandemic, to be accused of having murdered her husband, for example, by using witchcraft. To be held responsible for your husband’s death is something that you are made to suffer for the rest of your life.

4. In some situations, death does not end a marriage as a widow may be expected to move into an arrangement with her brother-in-law or other male relative or heir nominated by his family.

5. The ignorance and lack of concern for the suffering of widows and their families is noticeable. Many widows experience being evicted from the family home and may be deprived of the property of the deceased unless the property has been bequeathed to her through a will. Immoveable property or livestock, however, are managed in customary law by the son of the deceased or another man in the family.

6. Many widows, especially widows living in rural areas, are ignorant of their legal rights and of the provisions of PEPUDA, the Promotion of Equality and the Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act and may avoid reporting discrimination because they fear exposing themselves to threats and intimidation if they do.

7. When widows come together to organise to raise their voices collectively and to insist on being involved in decision-making bodies locally, nationally, regionally, and internationally, they are able to achieve change and to monitor the implementation and effectiveness of legislation that confers property, land and inheritance rights on them as widows.

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