The Succession laws of Uganda allow any adult person of sound mind to dispose of property by a Will /Testament in accordance with his/her wishes. The testator is at liberty to distribute property to beneficiaries as he deems fit. In many cases, deceased persons especially men have distributed properties in their Wills without providing for their wives. This has occasioned challenges of beneficiaries of a testament evicting vulnerable widows.
Whereas Article 31(2) of the 1995 Constitution of Uganda obliges Parliament to make appropriate laws for the protection of the rights of widows to inherit properties of their deceased spouses, there is no progress by parliament in this regard since promulgation of the Constitution in 1995. As a result of the legislative slumber, widows continue to be deprived of property of their deceased husbands due to limited protection under the Succession laws.
It is noteworthy that in the lifetime of the marriage, several legislations like the Land Act, Mortgage Act require spousal consent before a spouse can make a transaction affecting any interest in family land. In fact, courts have held that a transaction made without the mandatory spousal consent is a null and void. These legislations have given married women protection to family land. Unfortunately, all this protection vanishes with the death of the husband since the legal regime applicable to the land changes.
Judicial in-roads into interpretation the Succession Act have concentrated on giving women priority in applying for Letters of Administration where the Deceased dies intestate but little progress has been made where the deceased makes a testament. Most widows are vulnerable and as their property rights are being abused, they cannot afford the cost of litigation. Many of them retreat to poverty and suffering without bringing perpetrators of the abuses to book.
It is important to appreciate the historical perceptions attributed to widows. Widows were not only customarily disentitled to inheritance but were treated property to be inherited as well. It is time to recognize the role of widows in garnering the wealth and binging up of children so that we join hands in changing practices that abuse women’ property rights. This can be done by putting in place regulations that prescribe a minimum share that a widow is entitled to upon the death of the husband whether there is Will or not.
Happy Mother’s Day
-President, Muslim Centre for Justice and Law