The plight of widows receive rave reviews every June 23 as recently happened in Lagos where an organisation used the opportunity of the occasion to address the challenges facing widows and suggests remedies, reports Nwakaego Ohaegbulam
Have you ever had an encounter with a group of mostly middle aged women in black robes roaming the streets of some state capitals in the country at certain times of the year? They are most likely to be members of the Widows Association of Nigeria. Without pretense they would introduce themselves as such and quietly solicited for any form of assistance you could give.
If you cared to listen to their story, you are likely to hear a tale of woes meted by relatives and the uncaring social system of urban life. And you would in all likelihood come away with the impression that there is indeed something called ‘widows plight’ in Nigeria. The sad story of widowhood is the same in most developing countries. That is why the 23 of June have been set aside by the United Nations as a day of action to address the poverty and injustice faced by millions of widows and their dependents in many countries.
The United Nations General Assembly officially adopted it on December 21, 2010 after endorsed by a unanimously acclaimed proposal introduced by President Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon. With the adoption came a resolution calling on “Member states, the United Nations system and other international and regional organizations to give special attention to the situation of widows and their children.”
To give a helping hand, some NOGs and private organisation have zeroed in on days set aside to mark Widows Day to champion their cause and give some succour. One of such bodies is the Centre for Values in Leadership, CVL ; a notfor- profit organization sponsored by the Professor Pat Utomi Foundation. Recently in Lagos, it held an event with the theme ‘Widowhood And The Challenges Of Poverty And Injustice’ . It was focused at raising ‘seed funds’ for widows to start their own business by encouraging philanthropic Nigerians to adopt a widow at the rate of N50,000 naira. A discussant at the event, Dr. Maymunah Kadiri, while encouraging widows to be self reliant, said “being a widow is not a title neither does it make you a lesser person; rather you have to work hard and strive to remain relevant in society.”
On the health packages that are available to widows, she lamented governments failure to follow through with its policies saying that “health is not free anywhere. However, it depends more on the individuals to take up that responsibility to provide better health care for these widows while collaborating with government. I would encourage widows to make the best use of government hospitals because it is there that they would find specialists and receive affordable health care.” Also speaking, Barr. Kayode Akinsola, said that about 87 million widows are prejudiced worldwide. He pointed out that in some areas in the south-south region of the country, widows are made to observe some unwholesome practices like drinking water used to wash the anus of her deceased husband to prove her innocence.
He expressed thanks for the government in its efforts to abolish such practices which led to an Act in 2001 at Enugu State, Section 4 of which he said stated that widows should not be subjected to any rites or traditions whatsoever.
He added that there was a pending bill before the National Assembly to stop violence against women and widowhood practices. Barr. Yemi Gbonegun on his part, harped on the need for women to be educated on the dangers of such harmful practices not only for themselves (the women) but also for their children because they too can stand against such practices. “There is need to have a legislation which means involving the police who unfortunately do not like getting involved simply because such practices are considered traditional. Another reason why the practice goes unfettered is because those wronged are usually afraid to put up a fight against both the practice and its perpetrators.”
While calling on men to learn to put their families first before anything or anyone else, he harped on the importance for a husband to have a Will and a life insurance before his death. This he said would save the wife and children from the claws of desperate in-laws in the event of the man’s death. Speaking further on the importance of Will, Barr. Gbonegun said “in the absence of a lawyer to draft your Will, you could actually have it on your phone. This can be recorded stating your name, your spouse’s name and that of your children, the properties or estates you own and its subsequent distribution.
Having done this, you take the phone to two other people to give their consent orally thus, making it a will. The two people need not know the content of the recording because they are just witnesses.” He hinted that a will could be challenged based on the writers state of mental health. Adding his voice, one of the event coordinators, Mr. Uche said “As long as you are 18 and above, and you are married, you can write your will. This could be updated as one progress in life. It cuts across both sexes. There is need for parents to inculcate this practice in their children.
A will could be regularly updated.” A representative from SMEDAN, Mrs. Stella Nwakanma, drew the attention of the participants and audience to the issue of next of kin during documentation, saying that many men make the mistake of either using their under-aged children or their relative as their nextof- kin. This she said has caused a lot of widows to lose out on entitlements and benefits accruing to them from the deceased work place.
She said there was need therefore to involve one’s spouse during documentation. While speaking on Widowhood and Entrepreneurship, Mrs. Adaeze Ihunweze, highlighted that most of the time widowhood practices were more severe in families without male children. She called on widows to raise their children to be self reliant and educated so that they can fight for them adding that they should not turn their children against the in-laws.
“Widows have to get going. You have to cultivate a saving culture so as to empower both you and your children. Learn to harness your talent and instill hardwork in your children. Above all, avoid bitterness; let go and let God” she said. Speaking at the event, the National President Soroptimist organization and a widow, Mrs. Angela Ezechukwu charged widows to look beyond their situation because “being a widow whose husband is dead, does not mean that your hands are dead. It doesn’t mean that you cannot rise to greatness.
As a woman, you have to look within to identify your skills, work on them and equip yourself towards being able to sustain your family.” Contributing, Dr. Abia Nzelu, identified poverty, illiteracy, conflict and social injustice as key factors preventing widows from taking control of their health. While calling on widows to make it a point of duty to go for regular health checks asserted that stress and lack of health maintenance leads to untimely death. She identified cancer as one of the major diseases claiming the lives of women and encouraged women to go for screening and speak up once they have any health challenge. She also lauded government for establishing the National Cancer Prevention Programme to offer cancer screenings and treatment to women and widows at a subsidized cost.
Later in an interview, Dr. Mrs. Ifeoma Pat-Utomi said that the need to cater for the widows was based on humanity and the fact that “as a human being, you come to realize the fact that your life is intertwined with the lives of all the people around you and issues that concern them should also concern me. This is because if you leave it unattended to, at the end of the day, they become problems to the society. Apart from that, there was a personal experience which triggered the need to set up a centre to address the issues affecting widows.”
Mrs. Utomi buttressed the fact that education was vital for widows to raise balanced children. According to her “education doesn’t mean formal education but passing information through symposiums, seminars, the media, the church, community groups to enlighten women generally even before they become widows about the core importance of values for their children. This is because the family is supposed to be the domestic church where we teach the right morals and values so when we as women try to teach them those values, even when the head of the family is no longer there, they would not derail and it would be difficult for anybody to lure them into untoward habits.”
In a chat, one of the widows, Mrs. Stella Dedeo said there was need for people to live in unity and harmony. She appealed to all NGOs and organizations catering for widows to come together as one so that government can recognize them and give them the necessary assistance they need. The event which featured dance by widows as well as a cheque presentation of N100,000 by the Soroptimist group, attracted personalities from different walks of life including the Doyen of Nigeria’s Fashion industry, Chief Mrs. Opral Benson.