Our COVID-19 battles, by widows
With COVID-19 and its attendant lockdown and economic downturn have come additional pressure on society’s vulnerable, especially widows. How exactly have they managed these past weeks? YETUNDE OLADEINDE and OGHENEYOMA OMAREJEDJE explore this as well as several issues thrown up at a recent online conference anchored by AImanah Hope Foundation, Headhigh International and other stakeholders.
They have been to hell and back; lost much of their dreams; faced countless uncertainties and grappled against all odds, just to survive. It’s the harsh life of widows. Welcome? Certainly not, you’d say.
Actually, it has even gotten worse, tougher with the coronavirus, lockdown and its accompanying social distancing. Ask yourself, how have the widows, especially the less-privileged kind, been surviving this past few months?
Like everyone, they’ve had to adjust to the tough times. Many have lost jobs, grappled with unpaid salaries and burdened with unpaid bills. They’ve made frantic phone calls all around seeking help, just to make sure their children do not go to bed hungry.
Sleepless nights, tears, anxiety and depression, take a toll on their beautiful faces, rapidly turning them into a shadow of their old selves.
In the pack, you find Ganiat Oyebade, mother of four , who struggles to make a living as a tricycle rider. Hardened by a determination to survive, you also find frustration written all over, and every trace of her womanhood receding.
“I lost my husband about eight years ago. He was a trader and left almost nothing when he died. We were even owing our landlady, which was why, a few months after, we were asked to find an alternative accommodation. There were no funds to rent another house, so I kept my things with friends and relatives. I also distributed our four children amongst family members.”
First, she did a number of odd jobs. “Even though they were with relatives, I still had to raise money for school and pay other bills. I worked day and night, sometimes as a casual worker. It was after raising some funds that I joined a co-operative society. That was where I got a loan to buy my tricycle on hire purchase.”
She added: “Surviving, the pandemic has been tough, especially during the lockdown. At a point, I was arrested for working late. These days, I try as much as possible to adhere to safety rules, I have to be there for my children because they are still very young.”
For Rebecca Williams, it has also been tales of survival. But whenever it seemed all hope was lost, something comes up to cushion the effect of the hard times.
“I work every day to put food on the table for my children. It is only God that has been giving me strength to do the things that I do since the lockdown. It is worse because things are so expensive. Luckily, I am in the catering business and the children eat from whatever I produce. Also, the fact that we do not go out every day because of the restriction, makes it tough. We depend on daily earnings and every day matters for our survival.”
Did she get any palliatives? “Nothing at all. I did not receive anything. The money and food items that government said they were sharing; I haven’t seen or received anything from anyone. It is only God that has been taking care of me and the children”.
Interestingly, it was International Widow’s Day during the week. In solidarity widows, their supporters and advocates found ways to bond together, console one another as well as map out new strategies to chart a better future for these women, across the country and the world over.
Like has become the norm, they took their discussions online, sharing stories that touch the heart as well as reaching out to various stakeholders for help. A database for Nigerian widows was also launched by AImanah Hope Foundation and other collaborators in the sector.
According to Mrs. Comfort Lamptey, UN Women Country Representative in Nigeria, the importance of a database to commemorate the 2020 celebrations is in line with the principles of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s).
“There are over 258 million widows all over the world. It is huge, we must work to make sure that their voice is heard, and call for action for those rights. Since the coming of Covid-19, many widows are struggling, there is low income, and all this increase the vulnerability of widows. We need to probe better, and data collection is important, large scale quantitative data because numbers speak louder than words. We need comprehensive data to understand the different needs, age and status of these widows.”
Dame Paullen Tallen, Minister of Women Affairs, added her voice to the need for data at all levels, to help planning and budgeting for the needs of the widows adequately. “I am also a widow. I lost my husband about three years ago. However, I am someone that cannot depend on a man because of education. Education is key, once educated, you are equipped for life. An educated woman cannot be thrown around. For widows who are not educated, they can go back to school. It is never too late to learn. For many, the period of bereavement is tough, and in some cultures, widows are subjected to dehumanizing practices and this is part of my advocacy. We emphasize this to our traditional rulers and we would continue to push.”
On the impact of Covid-19, Tallen explained: “A lot of widows have lost their sources of income. I have good news to all widows: widowhood is not a curse. I advise them to stand tall. The storm does not last forever. We also have zero tolerance for rape which many widows are subjected to. So, whatever economic support we are giving to women, we would make sure that widows are top on the agenda. We have mapped out 17 states that we would be reaching out to in the next 14 days for palliatives.”
Foluke Ademokun, Executive Coordinator, Ajoke Ayisat Afolabi Foundation (AAAF) for widows emphasised that the database was a powerful tool that would help to change the lives of widows, especially those in the nooks and crannies.
“We need collaboration by all stakeholders to scope the management of the data. The demographics of widows are changing; before now, attention was on welfare. But now, we have a lot of young widows and so many issues that needs to be addressed.”
On her part, Esther Ify Ike advocates that widows should be included in the planning process, so that they can have an input in the policies that affect their lives.
“I lost my husband 29 years ago, I actually married very early. A lot of things happened which was devastating. As a widow, you lose everything – home, property; and become hopeless. When it happened, I attempted suicide three times. COVID-19 has worsened the situation. We cannot overlook this fact, many have been relegated to the background. It is a sad stigma. We wear two caps: mother and father. I told people to wish me happy Father’s Day, last week. This is because I played dual roles in the life of my children – taking care of everything that concerns the family. The hardship and reproach have taken a toll on many, many are in the psychiatric hospital.”
Veteran actress, Taiwo Ajai-Lycett has indeed seen it all. “I have been widowed twice; it’s like being in the furnace. They would miss their father if you have young children. You must be strong, and you have to see how you can go on. I call grieving an illness. I remember when my husband died, I developed short sightedness. It felt like the end of the world, but you have to go on. I have been there, it is a tough life to live – having to explain to your children that they would never see their daddy again. Next is the trouble that the widow goes through for material possession, forgetting that you have to train the children.”
Unfortunately, the men also complicate issues by not making their wives their next of kin. “My husband died in an accident – the Lalupon train disaster. Things were good then and his child and widow were paid compensation. Now, some families would start a war to make life more uncertain.”
Why not, Ajai-Lycett replied. “Girls usually don’t mind but boys are different. They see any man as a rival and you can link this with the Oedipus Complex. That is one of the problems a widow has to walk through, not to mention the man’s family.”’
Pastor Tinu Odugbemi, Executive Director, Head High International raised pertinent questions about the problems associated with raising the children alone, loneliness and the need to protect the girl child from rape.
“A lot of the widows we work with are usually skeptical about going into marriage again; sometimes because of the experiences of other widows, who remarried and got divorced with bitter stories to tell. It is also important to be careful when you have young girls.”
On her part, Barr. Margaret Owen, a women’s rights activist and widow, who hosted the first International Widows Conference in Beijing 25 years ago talked about how her passion for widows was ignited by an African woman who gave her an insight into the challenges faced by widows in Africa.
“This inspired me in 1993 but there wasn’t much information at that time. I discovered that wherever there is conflict and war, the number of widows keep increasing, and now with Covid-19, and the fact that the virus is killing more men means there are more widows. The effects have also made the situation of widows even problematic. More young girls are being driven from education into early marriage. Sadly, all progress made since the Beijing Conference, 25 years ago, is endangered. There are more conflicts now, women and girls are being raped, displaced and are now refugees.”
NEVER GIVE UP
Some widows however learnt never to give up, no matter the odds. One of such widows is Folashade Akinwale, now a Comptroller General of Prisons.
“I have been widowed for 12 years, my husband died in 2008. At that time, my last baby was just three and half years, the last of five children. He was sick for just a few weeks. It was devastating when we lost him, but we just had to pick the pieces. The church was highly supportive as well as my siblings.”
Just before his demise, he had great dreams and plans for a great future. “By the nature of my job, I was always transferred to different places, same with my husband, who was with the Immigration Service. I retired as a deputy comptroller of Prisons. We were in the East and then I moved to the Southwest and then he was transferred back to the East, when we lost him. I was in Ibadan and we just bought a piece of land, laid the foundation that January and we hadn’t put a block on it. By February, he was gone.”
It’s been a tough and lonely road but her education kept her going. “A woman should be equipped, she should have a good job. But there are men who do not want their wives to work. I had a good job but no side business. It was after that time that my comptroller picked me up to head female prison, Kirikiri and later the juvenile prison in Abeokuta. I wouldn’t have made it without God. Of course, there were moments, we had to borrow to send the children to school. I did it with joy and the children are doing well, they are graduates. The boy who was three and half years when my husband died, would have written his WAEC if not for coronavirus. We survived, and we are thriving. I didn’t remarry, that was not my focus. The children were my focus.”
According to Busola Olumuyiwa, a clinical psychologist, it is important to let the children know about the bereavement early enough.
“I was 18 months when my father died, and my mum was pregnant for my sister. I was told that dad travelled abroad. There is no need to cover up, telling them the truth help them to grieve better. Like behaviour response, there is state of shock, depending on the personality. Some would go into bargaining or straight into depression, grieving is unique to each person. As psychologists, we are not judgmental about why people behave because it could lead to depression. The final stage is the acceptance stage, but this is a journey. They should seek support from friends, family and people who can hold their hands.
Our COVID-19 battles, by widows