USAID Highlights IJM Uganda's Work With HIV-Positive Widows

Constance and her children are now thriving with protection from IJM Kampala. She can manage her HIV medications and feels empowered to share in her community
Constance and her children are now thriving with protection from IJM Kampala. She can manage her HIV medications and feels empowered to share in her community
Constance shared her story with a focus group of IJM clients affected by HIV/AIDS.
Constance shared her story with a focus group of IJM clients affected by HIV/AIDS.
Today, Constance is happy and healthy. She has her own small business and acts in a drama group to protect other widows.
Today, Constance is happy and healthy. She has her own small business and acts in a drama group to protect other widows.

KAMPALA, UGANDA – “My in-laws stole ten acres of land from my husband while he was sick with AIDS,” Constance* remembers. “If he had been healthy, that would never have happened.”

Constance is now a widow living with HIV alone and raising their four children. She is strong and vibrant, but just a few years ago her health was in crisis and her home under threat from these same relatives. Intervention from IJM Kampala—highlighted in a new USAID report—helped her return to health and stay safe in her rightful home.

“I don’t know what I would have done”

It was just months after her husband’s death that relatives began threatening Constance. They forced her to abandon her garden—her only source of income to support her family and pay for her HIV medication—and constantly harassed her to leave her home.

Unable to afford medicine, Constance became sicker and sicker under their unyielding pressure. “The stress and fear of that time made my condition so bad I could not walk or talk,” she explains. “My skin was swollen and wounded all the time. If not for IJM, I don’t know what I would have done.”

IJM found Constance just in time in 2008 and stopped the threats against her. IJM attorneys helped restore her rights to her home, while aftercare workers helped her access critical HIV treatment—likely saving her life.

Nearly 10 percent of people in Mukono District—where IJM works—are living with HIV, and one third of the widowed women IJM serves are HIV-positive.

IJM’s Intervention for Widows Highlighted

A recent major study from USAID highlights IJM’s work fighting for HIV-positive widows like Constance. Eleven organizations in East Africa were profiled, with IJM as a special case study of success in Uganda.

Nearly 10 percent of people in Mukono District—where IJM has worked since 2008—are living with HIV,[1] and one third of the widowed women IJM serves are HIV positive.[2]

As part of the USAID study, IJM brought together women and men who had been left vulnerable to violent property grabbing after a husband or relative died from AIDS. Interviewers from the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) met with these women and men to hear about the abuse they survived and how IJM’s intervention defended their rights.

One of the men, who has lived in Mukono his whole life, emphasized the direct connection he’s seen between property grabbing and the spread of HIV in the last few decades. He said, “HIV made property grabbing easier. Before HIV, there were just isolated incidents. But now, we hear about it often—I see so many widows who are victims.”

A woman in Uganda who loses her husband to AIDS not only faces the grief of loss and the worry of raising her children alone. Often, stigma about HIV leads family members to turn against a surviving widow—accusing her of infecting or killing her late husband. Many use this as an excuse to violently chase the widow and her children out of their home. [3]

But IJM Kampala has found great success defending these Ugandan widows and protecting their rights to home and land. IJM also trains local leaders to help widows, and works to change the community’s attitudes about women’s land ownership that allow violent land theft to persist.

“Property grabbing is a big issue for us," says Constance, "but you can find people like IJM who can help. The law can help you, and I want to tell people that.”

“The Law Can Help You”

As IJM pursues full legal protection for widows and orphans, women like Constance can refocus on staying healthy and providing for their children. IJM’s aftercare program helps cover the costs of medical care and connects HIV-positive widows to counseling groups and small business opportunities. Once safe, these women are able to not only survive, but to thrive.

With help from IJM social workers, Constance started a small pig farm and makes colorful paper beads for a jewelry company. Owning a small business allowed her to buy a small plot of land, where she’s building a small house to rent out for additional income.

Today, Constance acts as a peer counselor and participates in awareness drama to educate her community about HIV. She hopes to one day write a play about property grabbing and share her story.

“It would be so good to tell people,” she says. “Property grabbing is a big issue for us, but you can find people like IJM who can help. The law can help you, and I want to tell people that.”

Read USAID’s full compendium on programs protecting land rights for women living with HIV. »

Read more about women’s land rights worldwide in Devex’s comprehensive Land Matters series.  »

*Constance has given IJM permission to share her name, photograph and HIV status publicly.

 


[1] Lanyero, Flavia. “HIV-AIDS rate drops in North.” Daily Monitor. March 19,2012.

[2] Based on IJM Uganda Aftercare estimate of active cases as of May 2012.

[3] Evans, R. and Day, C. (2011). “Inheritance, poverty and HIV/AIDS: experiences of widows and orphaned youth heading households in Tanzania and Uganda.” Chronic Poverty Research Group. Accessed March 29, 2012. http://www.reading.ac.uk/shes/research/HER/shes-resassets.aspx

Africa, Illegal Property Seizure