The abusive practices to which widows are subject is hear breaking. This describes steps being undertaken at the local level in many countries to challenge abuse of widows, and change cultural perceptions of widowhood.
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Widowhood may have as little social or economic impact on widows as it does on widowers the lack of specific concern and recognition of the abuse of widows in the international human rights instruments, and recommends support for campaigns to remedy this is alarming considering how many lives has been lost due to the loose of a husband.
Widows are realizing that the support of other widows can replace and even surpass that received from their in-laws. Although the plight of widows has received little attention from the international women’s movement, the fact that widows are free from conjugal control and are faced with the necessity to earn a living makes them ideal agents of change.
In Ghana, a grassroots “Ministry of Widows” rescues women banished from their homes and helps them find income-generating activities. In Kenya, the Widows and Orphans Societies help AIDS widows. In Africa, the widow’s associations are relief and welfare-orientated. In India, the victim image has been shed, and women are becoming empowered Zambian widows, after the deaths of their husbands, face the loss of property and children at the hands of their in-laws. Those whose husbands have died of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), who are themselves infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), are treated the worst.
About half of the cases seen by counselors at the center run by the Young Women’s Christian Association in Lusaka are fighting legal battles against their families from their beds. Traditionally in Africa, a widow remains in her husband’s village and is cared for by in-laws. With urbanization and difficult economic times, the modern case is different. Although the widow and her children are legally entitled to all household property, the family home, and 70% of outside assets (In-laws receive the other 30%.), the women fear beatings and bewitching if they claim their property. If the husband dies without a will, a legal representative is appointed to handle the estate. This person is often a brother who treats the appointment as a license to steal.
The widow does have legal control over the appointment, but fears reprisals. Courts do not oversee the administrator; the widow must take legal action if she is robbed. This requires withdrawing the original appointment, appointing the widow as the new administrator, and attempting to acquire the stolen property. This is quite difficult to do for a woman confined to her bed with AIDS even if she has children. Police refuse to help, even when the widow is threatened with death. In addition, customary practices for widows are abusive. The widow, who may have AIDS, can be beaten and made to crawl to the funeral ceremony; she is blamed for the death of her husband and often is forced to have sex with her brother-in-law (to prove she is free of her husband’s spirit). In some cultures she must fast during the 3-day funeral and cannot bathe for a year afterwards. Individual stories are described. Women’s groups worldwide are lobbying for stronger laws to protect widow’s rights.
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