Officials of the Women’s Empowerment and the Family Ministry in Cameroon have stepped up efforts to turn the tides of widowhood in the country.
On the occasion of the 12th Widow’s Day, a handbook on Widow rights was presented to widows in a ceremony chaired by Prof. Marie Therese Abena Ondoa, Minister of Women’s Empowerment and the Family.
Widow’s Day was observed in Cameroon on the theme, “Protecting Widows : A collective Responsibility”.
The legal assistance guide is a landmark effort to protect the rights of Cameroon’s over 1.5 million widows. The United Nations estimates that the world counts some 258 million widows.
A woman becomes a widow when she is separated from her husband by death and she remains unmarried.
The Cross of Widowhood
Widowhood comes with a lot of challenges including discrimination, stigmatization, compulsory mourning rites, and financial difficulties.
Hell breaks loose for some women as soon as their husbands die. In some places in Cameroon, the widow is confined to a particular place, and secluded from the rest of the family and visitors. She would have to stay isolated till her husband is buried.
If the circumstances of her husband’s death are not clear, she is sometimes accused of having killed him and would be locked up in a room with his corpse for days to prove her innocence.
After burial, she goes through compulsory mourning and ritual cleansing, which mostly takes place weeks, months or even a year after her husband’s burial. Some traditions demand that widows wear special attires (white or dark) and shave their hair throughout the period of mourning.
A new life begins for the widow and the children after the death of her husband. It is often a difficult one especially for widows who neither have a job, nor an income generating activity.
Some widows are thrown out of their homes which will hitherto be owned by a family member. Bank details of their late husband account hijacked, and the account cleared. Some relatives seize all properties of the deceased, and turn their backs on the widow and orphans.
Life doesn’t just become hell for the widow, her children also bear the brunt of loosing a father. Children are abandoned to the widows, who are sometimes not literate, and do not know how to seek legal help.
In addition to the obnoxious practices and psychological trauma that comes with losing a loved one, the responsibility of educating her children solely becomes her burden. In extreme cases of poverty, some of the children drop out of schools, and others are sent to learn a skill or do menial jobs just to survive.
The Widow’s Guide
The Widows guide is one of government’s relentless efforts to lesson the burden on widows, restore their dignity, and improve their lives. It clearly spells out the rights of widows. The guide is representative of both the anglophone and Francophone legal systems.
To ensure that every widow makes good use of the guide regardless of their educational status, the Minister of Women’s Enpowerment and the family says the handbook of “ will be translated in different languages to be used in community radios, used by traditional rulers, religious leaders , civil society organizations and development partners who should all know that it is a collective responsibility to improve the life of widows”.
Kathy Neba Sina