Dealing with the vulnerability of widowhood
Today June 23, the world over is commemorating the annual International Widows’ Day as stipulated and observed by the United Nations (UN). The International Widows’ Day is a UN ratified day of action to address the poverty and injustice faced by millions of widows and their dependents in many countries. The event invariably takes place on every day of June 23.
The day was established in 2005 by Raj Loomba whose mother became a widow on June 23, 1954, and the bereaved woman experienced the social intolerance and financial adversity that can befall widows. The establishment was made under the aegis of The Loomba Foundation to raise awareness of the issue of widowhood, which was thereafter formally adopted and duly approved on December 21, 2010 by the United Nations’ General Assembly under the leadership of the present UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon. The proposal for the approval was tendered by President Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon.
A widow is a woman whose husband has died, whilst a widower is a man who has lost his wife; thus, widowhood is a state in which a man or a woman, as the case may be, has lost his/her marriage partner. It is obvious that in any society in the world, anyone either a man or a woman found in a state of widowhood is regarded as a less-privileged, because his/her partner in whom he/she is well pleased has departed for eternity. But in Africa, particularly Nigeria, the most devastating aspect of widowhood is when a woman is passing through the ordeal.
In Nigeria for instance, on the average, a widow regardless of her status, is severely molested, intimidated as well as humiliated. The major plight faced by a widow in this part of the world is deprivation of her late husband’s property or possessions by her teeming in-laws. In this case, she could be banned from making use of anything belonging to the deceased, thereby making her appear like a mere slave in her matrimonial home.
In many cases, the widow in question could be accused of being responsible for her husband’s demise without minding the severe psychological pains and agony she is passing through. In some quarters, to prove her innocence, the poor widow would be mandated by the accusers to drink the water used in washing her late husband’s corpse; a practice that obviously seems highly irrational and barbaric.
To worsen the matter, she might even be sent out of her matrimonial home as if she was not legitimately married to the deceased. Even if she had a child for the deceased, she would be asked to leave with the child for her parental home.
Most pathetically and painfully, based on the locality, a widow may be subjected to marry her late husband’s sibling, which is often referred to by the perpetrators as ‘customary or ethical’. Funnily enough, the so-called prospective husband of the widow may even be a married man or sometimes an imbecile.
After the official recognition of June 23 by the UN, the accompanying resolution called upon Member States, the United Nations system, and other international and regional organisations to give special attention to the situation of widows and their children. A recent report reveals that there are an estimated two hundred and forty-five (245) million widows worldwide, of which one hundred and fifteen (115) million live in abject poverty and suffer from social stigmatisation and economic deprivation.
As the world over marks the famous International Widows’ Day today, it is our civic responsibility to support the worthwhile event. In our respective capacities, we have vital roles to play towards ensuring that these ugly ubiquitous melodramas as regards humiliation of widows are totally eradicated. Poverty and injustice against widows is a worldwide plight addressed by the International Widows’ Day, thus we are expected to individually or collectively help to tackle the said anomalies.
We can assist in the ongoing campaign by ensuring that in our respective jurisdictions, a widow is not treated unjustly. We can also help to prosecute anyone who attempts to intimidate or humiliate her. Similarly, every widow should be conscientised on the need to fight for her right regardless of the circumstance. Widowers should equally be supported in any possible way in order to keep them away from any form of emotional or psychological trauma.
The civil rights lawyers shouldn’t hesitate to pursue any legal case regarding widowhood brought to their chambers even if the plaintiff lacks the financial muscle. In the same vein, the civil society as well as the religious bodies ought to put up a holistic sensitisation toward making the general public understand the repercussion of treating a widow or widower, as the case may be, unjustly.
The widows on their part are required to form a formidable coalition in any locality they find themselves to enable them possess one voice towards tackling any form of maltreatment they are usually faced. By so doing, they can assist each other in solving any predicament. Most importantly, this campaign requires the support of all and sundry irrespective of social-cultural or religious affiliations. Think about it!
• Nwaozor is a public affairs analyst and civil rights activist.