Individual Rights: From 17th Century John Locke to 21st Century Widows in Africa

by ACT

  • Posted on August 29, 2019

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“Being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.” – John Locke, Second Treatise of Government.

In honour of John Locke (1632-1704), Individual Rights Day is celebrated each year on his birthday, August 29th. Author of both “Two Treaties of Government” and “Second Treaties of Government” along with other notable works, Locke was part of the Early Enlightenment, a philosophical movement that took place primarily in Europe characterised by the rise of reason and liberty.

Locke understood the importance of education and argued that basic individual rights include life, liberty, property, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom to petition the government. He was therefore among the first to advocate the view that people have natural rights simply because they are human beings. Revolutionary at the time, his ideas went on to inspire the United States Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution.

While Locke lived a long time ago and used gendered language (evident in the quote above), there are elements of his philosophies we still champion to this day.

ACT recognises the importance of advocating for the individual rights of those most vulnerable in society. Along with our efforts to provide educational support for orphans and fatherless children, we have a number of projects championing widow’s rights to life, liberty and freedom.

Widowhood in rural Africa can impact a woman emotionally, socially, and financially. In addition to the traumatic loss of a husband, a widow may be ostracised from their community, forcefully married off, and separated from their children. Without national welfare support systems in most African countries, too often women are unable to receive the support they need – leading to a life of poverty for them and their children.

The ACT Sustainable Whole Life Skills programme was set up to empower widows by nurturing their skills and talent necessary for them to care for themselves and their children. The programme focuses on inheritance rights, business skills, and HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention, with the aim of assisting widows to move out of poverty and become productive members of their communities.

As part of the Sustainable Whole Life Skills programme, ACT set up a microloan project in Burkina Faso in (2008). So far, over 200 ventures, such as retailing, weaving, jewellery making, and hairdressing, have benefited from interest-free loans. The loans range from 25,000 to 50,000 CFA francs (£34-68) and can be paid back in 5,000 CFA francs (£6.85) instalments, on dates set by the General Assembly of the Widows Association.

In 2014 ACT set up the Income Generation Activity (IGA) project in both Tanzania and Uganda. The project helps to generate sustainable income by granting families livestock they can breed and/or use to produce milk for sale. Their offspring are also traded for income. So far, in Tanzania, the total number of animals has grown from 200 to more than 500 and helped many widows out of poverty, able to feed their children and provide them with clothes.

While ACT has supported over 1000 widows so far, many more widows in Africa require a helping hand to restore their hope and to get them back on a path to a better life. You can be that helping hand and make a difference by donating as much as you can to the cause. A little goes a long way and can change a widow’s life for the better.

For more information about our ‘Widows Programme’ please click here.

To support our work or make a donation please click here.

To learn more about John Locke check out this video.

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