Fighting the cause of the widow in Africa

by ACT

  • Posted on Jun 22, 2018

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… International Widows Day (23 June)

The loss of a husband and the impact it has on the woman he has left behind is indescribable. Various factors like age and nature of the relationship between the couple before the husband’s death all play a part in a woman’s distress. The impact is not only felt by the woman but also to her children if she has any. She receives a new label, widow, which she will bear in one way or the other for the rest of her life, with consequences for her and her children. After their husbands have passed, many African widows are forced to fight for their human rights and overcome many obstacles to ensure their social and economic development.

International Widows’ Day serves to recognise widows and their unique situations worldwide. It is estimated that there are over 245 million widows worldwide, nearly half of which live in extreme poverty and are subject to cruel violence. International Widows’ Day was declared by the United Nations and first celebrated on June 23, 2011 in an effort to empower widows and help them regain their rights, which have long been ignored and violated.

In a number of African countries, widows are one of the most vulnerable groups, particularly in rural society, where women marry young. Young wives often stay at home to look after their children and rely solely on the husband, the breadwinner of the family, for financial support.

The struggles and trials African widows encounter fail to be documented or recorded and because of this they continue to be overlooked and left without any form of support.

Some African cultures and beliefs see widowhood as something shameful and as a consequence widows and their children are neglected and they can be dis-inherited. The woman can also be forcefully married off to the next male relative and in some extreme cases, killed.

One of the core programmes of ACT is empowering widows. This is done through counselling and training in business skills so that they can generate income in a sustainable way to support their families. The widows also learn about inheritance rights, as well as health and HIV/AIDS awareness. ACT supports them with school fees and school uniforms for their children so that they can receive an education.

Collette Ilboudou in Burkina Faso was one of the 1100 widows that ACT has supported in the 8 African countries where it operates.  Collette experienced severe turbulence following the loss of her husband. A mother of five children, living in just two rooms and sharing facilities with other neighbours, she was unable to provide for herself and her children after the death of her husband in 1995.  She found herself trying to commit suicide when issues overwhelmed her, such as when her oldest son was charged with crimes by the police.  She was unemployed, unable to pay her children’s school fees or even feed them.  They were at risk of becoming vagrants. She attempted suicide by accumulating medicines to take an overdose; she was left in a vulnerable situation and became a danger to herself. Her sister intervened to remove all dangerous tools from her home that she could use to cause harm to herself.

Like many widows neglected and suffering worldwide, Collette lost all hope until she encountered ACT when her story changed and hope was rekindled. ACT supported her three youngest children making the burden lighter and allowing her to think through how she could sustain herself and her family. Collette has benefitted from the ACT widows’ project and received training in business skills that ACT makes available for widows’. The training and small amount of funding enabled Collette to buy a loom to make clothes which she sold.  From one loom, Colettes’s business grew to twelve looms and she employed other widows to work for her. Hers is one of many stories of widows whose lives have been transformed with ACTS support.

Many widows in Africa require a helping hand to restore their hope and to get them back on a path to a better life.  You can be that helping hand and make a difference by donating as much as you can to the cause. A little goes a long way and can change a widow’s life for the better. More information on the ACT widows projects in Africa can be found here.


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