As the World commemorates the International Widows Day, which started in 2011, to draw attention to the voices and experiences of widows, the Women Awareness for Sustainable Empowerment Initiative (WASEI) has called on the Federal Government to pay attention to the plight of widows in Nigeria and create the enabling environment for poor widows to thrive.
It is on record that there are an estimated 258 million widows around the world, and nearly one in ten live in extreme poverty with experts saying that the actual number is likely to grow further as the Coronavirus and its related effects on health continue to rage around the world.
According to the Executive Director of WASEI, Ms. Ify Onyegbule, Widows, especially poor widows in Nigeria need all the attention they can get because the death of the breadwinner has left them in very precarious situation and they find it difficult to fend for themselves or their children.
“Many of these women who were housewives while their husbands were alive have suddenly discovered that things are no longer the same and it is difficult for them to start from where their husbands left off”
“We have a network of 100 widows, and we meet with them at least two times a year and some of them are young women with little children to cater for and we organise empowerment seminars where some have been trained to engage in small businesses just to make ends meet and we know that women have specific needs, but their voices and experiences are often absent from policies that impact their survival”
“Last year December we had an outreach where some widows were empowered with cash to start petty businesses and the monies came from donations from well meaning Nigerians that have followed our cause over time. We couldn’t get together with the widows this year because of the Coronavirus pandemic but we are in constant touch with some of the widows on Whatsapp”
The race to survive for many widows is a huge task with more hurdles for them to cross just like in some parts of Nigeria, some widows are coerced into participating in harmful, degrading and even life-threatening traditional practices as part of burial and mourning rites.
Onyegbule says that many women have recounted how the loss of a partner is devastating for them and their children, where the loss is magnified by a long-term struggle for their basic needs, their human rights and dignity. She says many other widows find themselves in situations where they are outrightly denied their rights to inheritance from their late husbands, some are ejected from the homes they shared with their husbands while he was alive and are separated from their children, denied work and access to healthcare.
According to the United Nations, the pandemic has just worsened the situation during the past several months with a devastating human loss, and one that is likely leaving tens of thousands of women newly widowed at just the time when they are cut off from their usual socio-economic and family supports.
The United Nations calls on Governments to take action to uphold their commitments to ensure the rights of widows as enshrined in international law, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The Women Awareness for Sustainable Empowerment Initiative joins its voice to the calls for programmes and policies by the Federal Government, geared towards ending violence against widows and their children.
“The issue of poverty alleviation should take the front burner so that these women can become self-reliant, education and other support should be made available to widows of all ages so that they can continue their lives even after the death of their husbands”