TURNING THE TIDE IN THE STRUGGLE FOR WIDOWS’ RIGHTS
African traditional culture was a system that guided the lives of our ancestors in their conduct and relations. In most cases, these traditions that observed cultural norms were the pillar that ensured unity and harmony among communities. With the advent of colonial occupation, the adoption of Christianity, and Western education, most of these cultures were abandoned and forgotten.
However, in the late 20th Century, some of these cultural practices started creeping back. Communities across Africa that were disillusioned by the white man’s ‘civilization’ began retracing their steps to the old traditions that governed them. The sinister aspect that however emerged was the selective adoption and subjective interpretation of these ancient customs. Driven by hard economic times, male-dominated societies moved to consolidate economic production by grabbing land and property in the name of observing cultural norms.
Women, hitherto protected by ancient customs, were exploited, discriminated against, and abandoned by the practitioners of these new bastardized norms.
Culture no longer existed to protect and safeguard societies. Selfish looters selectively adopted and interpreted sections of these ancient customs with a partisan agenda of economic exploitation, domination, and control over women.
One group that was most affected by this neo-traditionalism was the widows. Safeguards that proscribed respect, honor, and protection of widows were abandoned. Any woman whose husband died now faced a revised system of customs that were engineered to sexually exploit them, deprive them of any means of livelihood, grab their property and basically bleed them dry. The idea behind these thugs was to scare the widow away from her husband’s property and send her back to her family.
In cases where a provision was made for widows to remain in their matrimonial home, she was to consent to unspeakable acts of sexual assaults, humiliation, battery, enslavement, necrophilia, and, necromancer.
Looked at objectively, an outsider shudders with dread at the ordeal endured by these women. It was nothing short of diabolical. Activists, international organizations, and national governments could no longer ignore this depravity. Slowly by slowly changes have been taking place and the fiendish fascination with widows’ sexuality abandoned.
Yet among numerous communities, and in societies where the outside world has yet to venture, widows live in terror and male dominance over female livelihoods has mutated into an evil presence that seeks whomever it can devour.
As sad and horrifying as it may sound, these practices dominate societies across Africa. As with all secret societies, communities are afraid to speak against them for fear of retribution. Widows differ silently and a few dare speak on their behalf.
Of late, however, NGOs, religious organizations, local authorities, and activists have made significant inroads into these forgotten corners of the world. Organizations such as The Goat Foundation have realized that the only way they can rescue these widows from the clutches of their male oppressors is through economic empowerment.
Through aggressively targeting vulnerable communities, widows are now being offered incentives to set up businesses and diversify their farming practices. Laws have been changed to guarantee legal ownership of matrimonial property though the implementation has faced difficulty due to entrenched belief in male superiority.
It is a slow and painstaking process in providing education, health services, and economic means to windows. It is hoped that eventually, advocacy and civic education will win over the hearts and minds of rural communities, who in turn will begin to grant widows the dignity of being left alone, or even provided for.
As a keen participant in this effort toward widow emancipation, The Goat Foundation looks forward to the day when men and women will be regarded as equal, in the eyes of every member belonging to these African communities.