By Mary Ekah
Human rights activists and political leaders in Nigeria have called for a concerted action aimed at abolishing all cultural and behavioural practices militating against the full exercise of the rights and privileges of widows in Nigeria. They made this call at the African Widows’ Summit in commemoration of second International Widows Day, pioneered by the Felix King Foundation in Benin City, Edo State.
Presenting a paper titled, ‘Confronting Inequity to Promote Change’, one of Nigeria’s prominent activists and Founder, Women Arise Initiative, Joe Okei-Odumakin called on Nigerians to see the challenge that widows and other vulnerable women face in the society as one that should be confronted by every individual to enable positive synthesis that will build communities for the better.
She blamed the continued scourge of maltreatment of widows on the insensitivity of those not directly involved and the silence of those who found themselves as victims and said it was a debt society owes itself as a mutually functional growing unit to protect the vulnerable ones among them.
Okei-Odumakin advised women to be brave and speak out when their rights are trampled upon, especially, as is prevalent, upon the departure of their husbands, assuring their voices would be heard by those ready and willing to offer help and support.
Also speaking on the topic, ‘Girl-Child Education: Panacea for Potential Growth’, the Co-convener, Bring Back Our Girls campaign, Aisha Yusuf blamed the scourge of maltreatment of widows and the vulnerable in our society on ignorance, saying that spreading education to the poor and the vulnerable will go a long way in preparing them for the task of effectively fighting for their rights when the situation arises.
She therefore advised men to invest in the education of their girl children while also ensuring that they hold their wives in confidence and empower them to make certain critical decisions that will play critical roles in the future survival of their families. Founder of the Felix King Foundation, Mr. Felix King Eiremiokhae, lamented the plight of widows in society and said his Foundation was established, not to solve all the myriad problems, but to blaze the trail and hopefully inspire others to embrace the movement that will alter the cultural practices that lead to the disempowerment and maltreatment of widows. He said his Foundation has over the past two years, not only organized the first ever widows summit in Nigeria, but gone ahead to make interventions aimed at ameliorating the sufferings of widows in the society.
“I am of the strong belief that when we deny the poor and the vulnerable their own human dignity and capacity for freedom and choice, it becomes self-denial. It becomes a denial of both our collective and individual dignity, at all levels of society. This is so because the divine order of social evolution presupposes that we protect one another, speak for one another and advance the cause of one another and when we, for one reason or the other, deny the weak and vulnerable among us what is their due, we are disrupting that Divine order,” he said.
Also lending her voice to the campaign, wife of the Governor of Edo State, Mrs. Betsy Obaseki, commended the Felix King Foundation for its timely initiative and promised her support towards empowering widows through her pet project, Edo Women for Agriculture (EWA) by adopting those who wish to embrace agriculture. She expressed hope that with the Foundation’s initiative, Edo State and other States in Nigeria will make deliberate efforts that will change the circumstances of widows.