Conditions of widows in Nigeria and Africa

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The condition of widows in typical African societies with special emphasis on Nigeria is the focus of this piece which catches the interest of an Awka, Anambra State writer, Comrade Obi Ibegbunam.

Often, leadership determines the success and failure of social initiatives though there are some very dire conditions that appear just dire and somewhat irredeemable. One of such situations is the condition of widows in typical African societies. In most cases, widows live under severe conditions of want, fear, loneliness, privation, lack of social safety nets and absence of succour. The extremities of widowhood, especially in such places as Nigeria make most of the women whose husbands are dead even wish they had joined their partners. Theirs is a harsh fate because in Nigeria, widows, especially those whose husbands’ folks have some discontent for can be exposed to a lot of odds.

Women who lost their men may be so stigmatised by their society that no man would go near them. They may be so alienated particularly when controversial or assertive that they may be tagged witches. They could be targets of suspicious family members or larger society to the extent of being victimised or even physically attacked. There have been several accounts of families that have taken away properties of their dead sons from their surviving widows under the guise of culture or convention. Gory tales of widows who were forced to drink the water used to bathe their late husbands’ bodies because they were believed to have killed their men emerge regularly from various parts of Africa.

It is funny that some people still believe that if a widow is guilty of causing her husband’s death she has to prove her innocence before the community or a deity. Where she is not made to go the crude course of proving that her hands are clean, she could be generally rejected or be carefully abandoned. Added to this is the still persisting superstition that associating with a woman who lost her husband may make the friendly man die. All these and many more make the condition of widows serious, severe and pitiable. Worse, most widows are unemployed but, the solution is not in the widows whining and moaning or wallowing in self-pity.

The success story of the Virtuous Widows International Foundation (VWIF) shows how widows can be the solution to their own challenges. The not-for-profit non-governmental charity organisation that promotes the welfare and rights of widows founded by a widow, Lady Ifeyinwa Egbosiuba, has over the past three decades, evolved into a canopy of succour and rallying ground for widows. Beyond being widows’ platform of meeting, VWIF which has spread from its Lagos origin to chapters in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja, Anambra, Delta, Enugu and other states of Nigeria has evolved into a de facto co-operative society where widows come together to seek and access available economic opportunities.

As the founder explained, the body was established to advocate for windows’ right; improve the living standard of widows and their children through social and economic empowerment (skills acquisition, empowerment); engage in behaviour change and communication efforts that will help reduce any form of discrimination against widows and their children; build institutional capacity of widows and their children; provide education and support to widows and their children and serve as community-based cluster groups while strengthening not only VWIF members’ but widows’ socio-economic status and providing them the knowledge and skills needed to live sustainable and healthy life.

Egbosiuba, the Orbba, Udenu Local Government Area (LGA), Enugu State born widow of the late Silvanus Egbosiuba, who hails from Neni, Anaocha LGA of Anambra State added that VWIF is “a divine mandate,” revealed to her after the death of her husband, Mr. Egbosiuba. According to her, “the Lord asked me to go search for my ‘sisters.’ At first, I didn’t understand because I know where all my biological sisters were and asking me to go look for them was kind of confusing. But eventually as I kept praying, He made the vision clearer to me; I began to see that I needed to bring my fellow widows together. This is how the Virtuous Widows association started and eventually we have the Foundation.”

Indeed, the VWIF initiative comes across as divinely inspired when one encounters the widows’ activities under Lady Egbosiuba’s zestful leadership. If you encounter the body during the yearly International Widows’ Day (IWD) or during their outing for one of their members, you would definitely leave with a positive impression of the organisational ability of the VWIF widows. Somehow, you may sense a strong social force and an emerging force for widows’ issues.

Interestingly, Egbosiuba has her peculiar approach to organising the VWIF women. She rallies them like a big sister and motherly minder – no big grammar and no dazzling drama. Most times you find some of the women with her or in her home, cooking and eating from the same pot. Typical life in the VWIF is like the mother hen and her chicks. When there is any lack, there is no rest for the founder. Whenever they have whatever, even if barely enough, they share with VWIF members and other widows who are not in their membership along with indigent children.

Asked her joy in all the zeal and drive, Lady Egbosiuba replied that it is “not about ‘benefit’ as you put it but fulfillment.” She explained what she deems fulfillment as “seeing my fellow widows getting respites as a result of our activities. This is a Call by God. So I am fulfilled.” Actually, if there is an award for real under-the-classes of ‘FOUNDER AWARD’ or ‘GRASSROOTS EMPOWERMENT LEADERSHIP AWARD’, I will nominate Lady Egbosiuba for it. Should there be another for passion and smiles amidst huge challenges and concealing of stress, I would still list her name.

VWIF under her inspires both widows and non-widows to understand that there is strength and immense power in passion in the bonding of even the most troubled. The body stands as a good study for widows’ power. Discussing with Egbosiuba, one also found another secret to the Foundation’s success – hard work. She detests finding women who are not active or do not have something they do to earn a living, “even if petty trading.” Similarly, she does not stomach hearing that a child dropped out of school because the mother is a widow. That is why VWIF is very active in sourcing scholarships for brilliant children of widows.

Periodically, VWIF organises programmes where it rallies supports from patrons and donors to procure materials and production equipment for setting up small scale businesses such as sewing, garri production, tomato and pepper grinding, baking among others. Those items are distributed to widows who show keenness for using them to make a living for their families. Egbosiuba explained that those periodic handouts are used to “empower and give widows hope.” Without doubt, Egbosiuba is a motivator. VWIF offers her a very effective platform to showcase how inspiring people and bringing them together on a space where they feel relevant and loved can turn around their fate even when things had appeared to have gone awry. Love and unity conquer odds sum up the message from VWIF.