By Jumai Ahmadu, PhD
In every society, there are women of all age categories whose husbands are late. They constitute a significant component of every country’s population. Widows’ welfare, conditions of living and treatment vary from one society to another.
Available statistics indicate that Nigeria has over eight million disadvantaged widows with over 21 million children. This statistics appear to be on the increase due to prevalence of crisis, terminal ailments, crimes, religion and politics.
On the African continent, particularly Nigeria, widows face seemingly insurmountable challenges. In some Nigerian cultures, shaving of the widows’ hairs opens the door for more troubles for the unfortunate woman as soon as the death of her husband is announced. In most parts, widows are deprived from benefiting from inheritance of their late husbands, especially with the absence of a will. There have been sufficient instances of deprivation attempts and fights, even when the husbands left a will.
Other sundry challenges widows face in our society range from traditional, economic, emotional and mental to spiritual problems. They also have difficulties engaging in social interaction, and poor housing, to mention a few. These travails, in most cases, make it practically impossible for the widows to have good life.
More so, in certain societies, sanctions are placed on the widows, which make it difficult for them to express their opinions on issues, including on the issues affecting them directly or their children.
Having almost nothing left to themselves, many widows find solace in petty trading due to inability to obtain sufficient capital to venture into reasonably lucrative businesses that would be sufficiently take care of themselves and their children, who usually suffer malnutrition, are prone to diseases, and in most cases, unable to go to school.
It is therefore incumbent on governments at all levels, non-governmental organizations, institutions and individuals to stand up in order to tame these challenges and make life worth-living for widows in Africa, in general and Nigeria, in particular.
Worried by plight of the Nigerian widow, Helpline Foundation Abuja, an Abuja based Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) has tailored its activities and programmes with a view to, not only catering for the needy, but most importantly, ameliorating widows’ sufferings.
Fondly called Helpline, the NGO’s major activities involve issuance of micro credits, facilitation and provision of health care and education services, as well as operation of charity shop and food bank, its latest inclusion.
Since inception in 2003, Helpline has positively touched lives of numerous needy, including widows and orphans in Nigeria through empowerment measures. Not less than 310 widows received assorted food items and about 100 orphans were given support and assistance ahead of last Christmas celebration. Some of the orphans were also given scholarships to secondary schools.
In addition to the foundation’s reach-out programmes, it also embarked on capacity building of the needy in various vocational skills such as tailoring, hair dressing and sop-making, among others.
By 2013, Helpline Foundation Abuja had award scholarships to about 500 pupils, renovated a dilapidated block of classrooms in Ofante Local Government Area of Kogi state in 2010, distributed food and gifts items to orphanages from 2003-2014.
It also opened a charity shop in Kuje Area Council to raise funds for children orphaned by HIV/AIDS, and vulnerable children in the society in 2011, organizes annual charity funfair for children to attend to their needs, and hosted first ever Child Ambassador Contest in Abuja.
Considering the fact that, owing to the enormity of the challenges facing the needy, particularly the needy in Nigeria, it is incumbent on governments at all levels, corporate organizations, international organizations, religious bodies and well-meaning individuals to cooperate in efforts to tackle the plight of widows and needy in Nigeria.
Such collaborations and efforts could be channeled into constitution of relevant legal instruments, empowerment of widows and needy through issuance of more low interest loan schemes, interest free micro finance schemes, farming ventures and setting apart of special fund for health intervention for the needy.
Other sundry ways Nigerian widows’ hardships could be tackled include encouragement of female education, enhancement of women, economic empowerment, improving availability and effective utilization of family planning services and encouraging men to write their wills early in marriage.
Lastly, there could be advocacy and public health awareness campaigns, to enlighten the masses about the plight of the widows, in order to eliminate the dehumanizing traditional practices to which Nigerian widows are often subjected.
Widows on their own should also keep their heads high, engage in meaningful ventures, be they little with the hope that God will never leave them alone.