She was leaving the church premise when someone saw her and screamed “Jesus!”
The woman stood still.
She tried to give a smile but the tears came raining down uncontrollably.
She was dressed in a traditional white mourning dress… Just turned a widow.
The stunned woman gave her a hug and both walked down in tears.
The tears were definitely and first for the loss of the loved one, then the gaze that comes with “woman in a black/white dress”, the trauma, loneliness and abject negligence that have become the brutal reality.
Once seen in that traditional mourning dress, everyone gets the message. Some may be nice; some others dread them as though they were walking curses.
Yesterday, June 23 was the international day for widows. The United Nations sets this day aside to recognize the plight of widows all over the world. It aims to address the outrageous cases of injustice meted out to widows and the role of poverty in their delicate state.
Being a widow in Africa is one of the most dreaded and sensitive situations for any married woman.
UN quotes thus:
“Absent in statistics, unnoticed by researchers, neglected by national and local authorities and mostly overlooked by civil society organizations – the situation of widows is dramatic and, in effect, invisible.”
“Once widowed, women in many countries often confront a denial of inheritance and land rights, degrading and life-threatening mourning and burial rites and other forms of widow abuse.”
Widowhood though involves single parenting but cannot be equated as same. It is even more intense than single parenting.
During nuptial rites, the two people become one. Never do we nearly get the meaning of that illogical arithmetic than when either of the couple is in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and worse dies.
Psychologically speaking, the widow loses a greater part of her. All she owes herself and her family is the way forward. But how smooth will that turn out in a society that unapologetically neglects, oppresses and stigmatizes widows.
In some cultures, they are never even afforded the time and space to grieve and get over their loss.
Using Nigeria as an example, some remote cultures still believe that once a man dies, something must be behind it; and the woman is the first suspect.
In most cases, widows are deprived of assets and properties of the late husband. In some other cases, there may not be any property to lay claims to. In which case, the woman toils on to make ends meet for the family.
Some go through torturous practices like shaving their heads, locked up for days in isolation sometimes in company of the corpse; and made to drink water used in cleaning the corpse. Best be sure that there are more barbaric practices in remote African communities.
Widowhood in the typical African setting marks the start of untold hardship and misery. The economic state of the widow and the society at large goes a long way in securing her and her family a better life.
Bringing into cognition, the traditional role of the woman into perspective, the African woman is supposedly restricted to the home front- doing domestic chores and nursing the entire household.
In recent times the above set up has been considered an endangerment for the future in cases where the breadwinner passes on. Where does the woman begin from? How does she cope with the affairs of the family burden and concerns which she apparently has to carry alone?
Widowhood is tough but worse for young widows. While the social effects are same for both the young and old African widows, The young ones have been found to experience higher levels of psychological effects and economic setbacks.
The economic worry adds a chunk of stress to the health and general well being of the African widow.
Widowhood is manageable with a good financial back up.
In an interview with CNN, a 52-year old Kenyan widow summed up her own version of the African widowhood experience,
“I was widowed 10 years ago after my husband, John Mwichigi, was murdered during the tribal clashes in our country in 2007. In the initial weeks and months after the death of my spouse I had a lot of stress, confusion and fear. I have been neglected and humiliated in many ways by family members.”
“My experience of grief is struggle and hardships in order to overcome the challenges. I feel lonely with nobody to share life with. God, encouragement from some good friends and church members have helped me to get through the pain of my loss.”
“Other people sometimes think about being widowed as just a usual way of living, without stress, neglect, humiliation or loneliness. But to be a widow in my country, you will be neglected by relatives, isolated by people, oppressed and denied your rights by family members, society and local government officials.”
African widowhood is an inexhaustible topic. The take home message is to make life easier for both young and old widows.
While the pain of the loss is priceless knowing you have a support system is indeed cardinal in going through with the inexplicable ordeal.
On this note it’s worth it to appreciate non-profit/human right organizations, governments and philanthropists across Africa who are dedicated in the welfare of widows.
Nonetheless, there is still more to be done. Improving the African widowhood experience is a call for every African who means well for the society.