Ameliorating Plight of Widows

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Sunday Ehigiator reports that in commemoration of the international widows day, the Rose of Sharon Foundation recently ameliorated the plight of about 3000 widows by empowering them

The International Widows day is a day set aside and ratified by the United Nations (UN) to address the poverty and injustice faced by millions of widows and their dependents, with the primary aim of raising awareness to the global issues of widowhood.

Hence, the Rose of Sharon Foundation (RoSF), as part of its mandate in ameliorating the plight of widows, recently carried out an outreach which was largely attended by over 3000 widows, both from within and outside Lagos. Held in collaboration with Mass Medical Mission (MMM) at the Yaba College of Technology Lagos, they provided relief materials to widows in other states simultaneously.

Commitment to Widows
In her address, the Founder, Rose of Sharon Foundation, Mrs. Folorunso Alakija pointed out the foundation’s commitment to always protect the rights of widows.

According to her, “the United Nations observe June 23 as International Widows day to draw attention to the voices and experiences of widows, and to galvanise the unique support that they need. Millions of widows identified all over the world are constantly faced with neglects, exploitation and injustice. They are often times denied the right to their husbands properties, evicted from their homes, and some are even forced into unwanted marriages or traumatising widowhood cultures. They are stigmatsed, shun and shamed.

“Many of these abuses go unnoticed. And sometimes even normalised within our society. The perpetrators of these numerous activities are often never called to justice. These is because they are protected by age old traditions, native laws and customs that have been accepted as the norms. And they are therefore not challenged or even restricted.

“However, we at the Rose of Sharon Foundation are determined not to allow these acts to go unnoticed. We will continuously fight for their rights and provide succor for them. 2019 marks the sixth year that we will be observing the international widows day with the rest of the world. I believe that by the end of the day, we would have drawn the world’s attention to their challenges.

“The theme for this year’s program is ‘Upholding The Human Rights of Widows for Law and Cultural Practices’. Nigeria’s constitution, supported by International law, emphasises equal rights of women. But equal rights are difficult to enforce especially in a society where inequality is a long standing tradition. Under the federal law of Nigeria, if a married man dies, a portion of his assets automatically goes to his wife. But in many parts of the country, widows are denied the right to inherit their late husband’s estate. In some cases, the families and communities don’t know the law, or sometimes chose to ignore it. Under customary or religious law, rights of inheritance are not granted to wives and female children.”

Health Challenges
Speaking with THISDAY, the Executive Secretary, Mass Medical Mission, Dr. Abia Nzelu said the center of all widow’s challenge is health. According to her, “the plight of widows are so many but can be summarised by saying they are invisible women with invisible problems. They are oppressed, and denied their rights in most places, especially in a developing country as ours. The moment their husbands die, they are faced with a lot of challenges, some from the extended families who come to take forceful possession of their belongings, making them pass through struggles to take care of their children.

“At the same center of their problem, I always say it is health. In the first place, they are widows because their husbands died of a condition of one disease or the other. Even if it is accident, it is also related to health, be it not having access to medical care at all or quality medical care before he died. So health to me is the root of widow’s problem, because it’s one of those factors that can drag them into poverty.

“By the fact that their husbands have died, and they have lost supports from their husbands, they are already down. And then, when they now start to have health issues, for the fact that they have to fend for their children most of the times, they won’t bother to take care of themselves. They don’t even have the time because, they are always here and there working tirelessly just to take care of their children. Hence, they are more likely to fall prey to few of these chronic diseases that could have been prevented by just a routine screening.

“Widows face most of all these challenges, but at the center of it remains health issues which drives them into poverty unless they have access to good health care. And the reason why today is international widows day is to draw attention to the plights of widows, and to the fact that they are alone and deprived. People should stop oppressing widows. The injustice people met on widows is just unbearable, they should stop doing that. They should know that these women are human beings themselves, and they becoming widows wasn’t what they wished for themselves when they entered into marriage, but life happened.

“For those men that are married, they should know that they are human beings just as their wives and they likewise have their fundamental human rights that needs to be supported so to help them better bring up their children to become of value to the society. Because if widows keep being oppressed, despite their poor status, they may end up bringing up a wayward children.”

Partnership
On partnership with Rose of Sharon Foundation, she said, “The Pink Rose is created to give medical support using mobile cancer centres. One of these mobile cancer centres was donated by the founder of Rose of Sharon Foundation, Mrs. Folorunsho Alakija, which we have been using to go round the country, from one community to the other, churches mosques, markets and other rural areas to carry out free outreaches to ensure that lives are saved and people have access to routine and world class preventive health care. And just because she realised that health is just at the center of every problem widows face in Nigeria, she decided to inculcate free medical services into the program.

“So for this particular outreach we are conducting common cancer screening, general health screening, especially for things like hypertension which is very common with widows. We have the eye and dental screening. And the good thing about these is that, after they have been screened for any of these especially general cancers such as celvic cancer, and are diagnosed to be at risk, they will be treated right here in these our mobile medical outreach vans. Because inside it we have mammogram, that can be used to treat breast cancer, we have in here theatre for follow-up etc. We also giving out free eye glasses, and free dental treatments.”

Personal Experience
Sharing her personal life experience with widows at the event, iconic musician Onyeka Onwenu said, “My mother got married for the first time when she was about 19 years old. Unfortunately, just about a year later her husband died. Eight days later she had my eldest sister, and the family of her husband insisted that she has to marry the younger brother of her late husband. But my mother wasn’t the kind of person that you will tell who to marry, so she said no, and they took the child from her. For several years, she had no access to her daughter. But when she was grown up, she came back to marry my father. And the man was one of those very studious men, and they began to struggle together even through when he went overseas to study. And when he was just about to be made the minister of education; just two weeks before then, he died in a car accident.

“ So you can imagine the pressure on my mother for the second time. And she was only 36 years old. I was her last child and the apple of my father’s eye. I was daddy’s girl, totally his favorite. He won’t eat without me and most times take me wherever he goes. But he died when I was about five years old. So being raised by a widow, I am familiar with the issues surrounding widows being discussed here. I remember my uncle coming to Port Harcourt which was were we lived, and sold my father’s land. And my father bought that land with money he borrowed from my mother. And this my uncle, his children were all being raised by my mother, she didn’t send them away.

“This man came, was staying in our guest room, sold the land, and was carrying the money with him while he was still staying with us, and we had no idea till he left. Thank God for my aunty; my father’s sister, they now went and changed everything, cause my father didn’t leave a will, he was only 40 years old when he passed on. So my mother was able to get a house, where we all lived. It had only been built up till foundation, my mother continued. Oh I remember my mother today, she was a strong and brave women. That’s why I look at women like you and have nothing to say than tell you from the bottom of my heart that I love you. Because I know that the life that you are living is very difficult. Society does not help you, society does not give you the regard that is due to you.

“When a man looses his wife, right there at the burial, they would be parading young girls in front of him to chose among them which one he wants. But then, if it is a woman, you must be the one that killed your husband. I was raised by a very hard working widow. And she raised me up to masters degree, I went to school in the United States, and I came back. And I must tell you, that there is a type of training that school can’t give you, only your mother can give you such training.”

Cultural Orientation
Also speaking, the Acting Executive Secretary, National Institute for Cultural Orientation, Louis Oriomala said, “The root cause of the ill treatment meted on widows for me is culture; our way of life. It is our belief, and it would take time to change, and it is constant dedication to reorientation. For example, it took a Mary Slessor for us to know that twins are not evil. That is the problem we are having and why I would maintain that we need to involve our traditional rulers. That is when our problem would be solved. It is not through law that these can be solved. It is culture, our believe. As the Bible says, as a man thinks in his heart, so he is.

“So if you don’t change that pattern of thinking, there is no law that would help you change it. If traditional rulers as the custodian of customs and traditions buy into the idea of defending widows rights, and they speak up to the people that it is wrong, the people won’t argue. So the thrust of the work is in the tradition.

“And for married men, I’ll advise them not to bring their family into every matter in the home. Let your wife know so much about you so that, peradventure anything happens, she would be able to protect herself and the children. So don’t bring your family into every thing. Let your wife be in charge of most things about you, so that should anything happen suddenly, your wife can easily take possession of your belongings.”