Traditional leaders, such as chefs, elders, and customary judges have a critical role to play in reducing violence against widows. For many women around the world, community-based, customary justice mechanisms are the only available method of redress. While traditional practices often are used to justify violence, culture is dynamic and can change through training, public education, and access to new information.
Kenya: The Turkana Women in Development Organization (TWADO) runs a paralegal program specifically focused on monitoring cases that involve violence against women and children in the remote Turkana region of Kenya. Women paralegals are trained on human rights, gender equity, and relevant Kenyan laws. They are then seconded to customary dispute resolution processes in Turkana, where they provide input to cases that relate to women’s rights. They also monitor the system for cases that should be referred to the formal courts and encourage families to use that process.
Togo: The NGO Alafia, in conjunction with UN Women, provided training for community leaders and other stakeholders on the rights of women and widows in particular. The training assisted the local chief in Woame, Kloto Prefecture to make determinations in inheritance cases. When confronted with a case of a brother who was threatening to kill his sisters if they did not forfeit all property after the death of their father, the Chief ruled that the estate should be equitably divided in accordance with the Togolese family code. See: Fighting widowhood practices that enable violence against women In Togo, OHCHR, n.d.
Zambia: Women for Change in Zambia uses grassroots, human rights education to conduct community dialogues on traditional norms and practices in rural communities. The group established a Traditional Leaders Programme that works with chiefs and village heads to re-examine and abolish customs that discriminate against women including early marriage. Using local trainings, community dialogues, regional SADC trainings for traditional elders, and international exchanges between traditional leaders in Zambia and Tanzania the program has seen important impacts, such as the banning of widow-cleansing practices by chiefs along with fines imposed upon those found engaging in the practice, as well as the appointment of women village headpersons.