Bus Empowerment: Justice for Widows and Orphans Project

Photography and photostory production by Anayawa Sililo

According to a 1999 USAID situation analysis of Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVCs), Zambia has highest proportion of orphaned children in the world – 67% of children under 18 years are orphans. Traditionally, widows and orphans in Zambia were cared for and integrated into society. However, social and economic circumstances within the country have negatively affected the livelihoods of widows and orphans – the realities and consequences of HIV and AIDS in Zambia and the Zambian economic situation have worsened their status.

The situation of widows and orphans in this environment and the injustices they experience has resulted in their increased poverty and vulnerability as they are subjected to discrimination, abuses of their human rights and inadequate financial and social support to ensure their basic survival, or to support themselves and their families by embarking upon economically sustainable livelihoods. Orphans further lack psychosocial and education support and often experience abuse within the community who do not observe or appreciate their rights.

In light of the injustices, a non-profit organization, The Justice for Widows and Orphans Project (JWOP), was initiated in 2001 to protect the rights of widows and orphans in Zambia.

JWOP is a member organisation which brings together a network of 7 non-governmental organisations and government departments:

  • Women and Law in Southern Africa Education Trust (WILSA)
  • National Legal Aid Clinic for Women (NLACW)
  • Zambia Civic Education Association (ZCEA)
  • Young Women Christian Association (YWCA)
  • Forum for Democratic Process (FODEP)
  • Ministry of Community Development and Social Welfare
  • Police Victim Support Unit (VSU)

The mission of JWOP is to “Strive to promote, protect and safeguard the rights of widows and orphans in Zambia.” They do this by educating widows and orphans about their basic human rights, promoting the protection of these rights and to advocate for legal reform on their behalf. JWOP works in 6 of the 9 provinces of Zambia – Lusaka, Southern, Central, Copperbelt, North-Western and Eastern provinces.


The “Bus Campaign”

In supporting the rights of widows and orphans in Zambia, JWOP have carried out a variety of projects, the most successful being the ‘Bus Campaign’ where information regarding widow and orphan rights is presented and disseminated amongst the general public travelling on buses/coaches throughout Zambia.

The campaign has focused on popularising and promoting legislation called the Intestate Succession Act, which was developed to support families in the event of the death of a spouse; it encourages individuals to write a Will; and carries out community workshops with church leaders to encourage them to promote the rights of widows and orphans during their church services and outreach activities.

Although ‘property grabbing’ is illegal in Zambia under the Intestate Succession Act, the practice is a daily reality for many women and children in the country. Where no Will has been written, the property of a deceased is very often ‘grabbed’ by members of his extended family, leaving his immediate family – wife and children – with nothing.

Anayawa Sililo from 80:20 Educating & Acting for a Better World, followed JWOP staff on one of their Campaigns:

On 10th October 2008, a JWOP Bus Campaign was conducted on a ‘Marks Motor Ways’ bus from Lusaka to Ndola in Zambia – a journey of about 400 kilometres with 79 passengers.

The bus company manager Mumpangwe Majuka, who also a well known Zambian comedian, introduced Felix Kunda, the coordinator of JWOP to the passengers. Majuka is a strong advocate of the Bus Campaign since he himself has had direct experience of “property grabbing” (a growing phenomenon in Zambia where in-laws ‘grab’ the property of a deceased relative, leaving the remaining spouse/child/parent/dependant with no belongings and quite often no home) when his father died and the father’s relatives ‘grabbed’ the property from the family home, leaving them with nothing.

For the first 45mins of the journey to Ndola, Felix begins the journey by discussing the issue of widow and orphan rights in the local language of Bemba. He began by talking about the two pieces of legislation that govern the administration of property after death – the Intestate Succession Act (where someone has died without leaving a Will) and the Wills and Administration of Testate Estates Act (where there is a Will). Will writing, in Zambia is often only carried out when an individual is sick and knows that they are dying, since many Zambians perceive writing a Will as a bad ‘sign’. Yet, with the reality of HIV and AIDS in the country, Zambia is regularly faced with death. The low status attached to widows, orphans and dependents in society, often sees their rights abused and ignored.

During the journey, JWOP defines some of the terminology around developing a Will and the importance of writing one. The passengers are given examples of situations that JWOP have been alerted to and have supported. The passengers would often ask questions and outline some situations of abuse that have occurred in their communities. Some of the questions asked included:

  • Should the beneficiary of the Will be a witness to the will? (The facilitator answered that the beneficiary should not be a witness)
  • Should a wife be a beneficiary to a Will? (The facilitator replied that the Will is meant for the beneficiaries, to continue the life they used to have when the deceased was alive. If you have a wife, she has the right to your property)
  • Should a woman get consent from the husband before writing a Will? (The facilitator responded by saying that “it depends”. They can write it together as a couple or she can write on her own. It is not advisable to tell the beneficiaries the contents of the Will but it is fine to tell them that one has been written)
  • How can I protest a Will if I am left out? (A Will can be contested if it is believed to be unfair by the courts. The courts will establish what is due to an individual through the Intestate Succession Act, once status as a beneficiary has been established)
  • At what age should one write a Will? (Anyone at the age of 21 years and above)



During the journey, JWOP was able to support the two following requests:

  • Support regarding property grabbing – A widow from PHI in Lusaka, during the bus campaign discussed a problem that she was experiencing with her in- laws. She said she was HIV positive and based on that, her in-laws have held on to the children. She said that they were also planning to’ grab the property’. During the journey, JWOP were able to refer the woman to the National Legal Aid Clinic, Victim Support Unit and Women and Law in Southern Africa to support her in her situation.
  • Partnership – A traveller on the bus who was involved in community activities requested JWOP to partner with him so that he can establish a resource centre in the communities where he was staying. JWOP agreed to send him materials so that they are distributed to the communities.

During the journey, informational materials are distributed among the passengers such as posters, a summary of the Intestate Succession Act, a sample ‘how to’ write a Will, the JWOP newsletter and other materials from the network members where passengers can go for further information and support.

Passengers are encouraged to submit their contact details to be included in the JWOP mailing list to receive regular up-to-date information on the issues discussed and request support. Most passengers are more than willing to oblige. They are also encouraged to contact JWOP for support should they or any one they know who is experiencing difficulties on the death of a spouse/parent/child/guardian.

Once the bus reaches Ndola, Felix organises a workshop on the Intestate Succession and Testate Succession Acts among church leaders from various religious denominations in order to encourage them to discuss and debate with their congregations during their church services about the plight of widows and orphans in their communities.

The bus campaign is seen as a successful method of providing information and ensuring an understanding of the issues among the general public throughout the country. Felix says that JWOP are compelled to continue the work that they are doing primarily because so few organisations in Zambia are hearing and responding to the plight of widows and orphans in the country:

“We are the only organization that gives voice to the widows who have been quiet and oppressed,” he says.