Invisible Women: ACT for the people otherwise forgotten

by ACT

  • Posted on June 21, 2019

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ACT supported widows in Burkina Faso. Their losses can be uncountable, including their human rights.

“You feel frustration and shame that your own children cannot go to school, or worse that they have been thrown out of school.  This is not because they are incapable academically, but simply that they cannot afford school fees or buy school uniform or school books”.

– Fathi, (Hamdalaye, Burkina Faso)

In many countries with traditional societies, the death of a husband is magnified by a number of losses —social status, marital home, land and property, security and dignity. Widows are ostracised, abused and in some cases loss of their children. Effectively, women find themselves left in poverty and loss of their human rights when their husband dies. The children of widows also often find themselves affected, withdrawn from school and more vulnerable to abuse, especially in the case of girls.

Many widows face economic, social, physical and psychological violence by their marital families and communities. This maltreatment is worsened by lack of awareness, resources and access to justice.

International Widows’ Day serves to recognise widows and their unique situations worldwide. It is estimated that there are over 258 million widows worldwide, and nearly one in ten live in extreme poverty according to a 2018 report by UN Women. As women, they have specific needs, but their voices and experiences are not heard and often absent from policies that impact their survival.

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.

In rural African societies where we work and where women marry young, we have witnessed the sufferings of widows and challenges they face.  Widows are one of the most vulnerable groups. Young wives often stay at home to look after their children and rely solely on their husband, the breadwinner of the family, for financial support.

Some 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, subjected to violence.

One of our core programmes 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.

Colette working on her loom

Collette, a widow in Burkina Faso is one of more than a thousand widows that have benefitted from our widows programme.  Collette experienced severe turbulence following the loss of her husband. A mother of five children, neglected, unemployed and unable to support her family she lost all hope and attempted suicide a few times, but each time there was someone around to save her. Her story changed when she came to our attention and we supported her three youngest children. She then joined our widows’ programme and benefitted from our business skills training. She received a small loan to buy a loom and wove materials to make clothes which she sold.  From one loom, Colettes’s business has grown to more than a dozen and has been employing other widows as her business grew.

“The children desire education but do not have the opportunity. You watch as they lose confidence and any hope of achieving their potential in life and you feel powerless to change things”.

“Gradually you lose control and watch as they do ‘whatever it takes’ to survive – they end in gangs, become street children and the girls are led into prostitution”.

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.

For more information about our ‘Widows Programme’ please click here.

To support our work or make a donation click here.

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