Efforts to change the story of widows for good got a boost on Friday when Nollywood actor and member of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Desmond Elliot, and actress Mercy Aigbe joined a campaign to call attention to the plight of widows in Nigeria with a view to ameliorating their suffering.
Both teamed up with the Felix King Foundation and spoke strongly against many cultural and behavioural practices in many communities in Nigeria that tend to limit the rights of women following the demise of their husbands.
According to a report from a briefing on the project, they vowed to continue speaking out until there is a social movement towards the direction of not just protecting widows but creating an environment of economic and social inclusion that would enable them to deal with the pains of their losses much more easily.
Speaking on the plight of widows in many communities in Nigeria, Elliot wondered why it was usually convenient for men to blame women for the deaths of their husbands. He stressed the need for government and other stakeholders to work towards a total change of attitude towards these vulnerable members of the society.
“We live in a society where women are blamed each time a man dies. But no one ever thinks of the pains they have to bear in bringing up the children left behind,” Desmond said and called for legislation across the states that would criminalise maltreatment and disinheritance of widows.
He also called on men to prepare for the eventualities of their death by writing their wills as a means of protecting the future of their children and the comfort of the women they very likely would leave behind.
Adding her voice to the campaign, Aigbe called for a general change of attitude towards widows, while also not leaving out the cultural practices that form the foundations of the dehumanisation of widows in Nigeria.
“We need to deal with some of these cultural issues that are generally skewed against women. We need to abrogate them and ensure that the rights of these widows are protected. We live in a society where economic power still rests with the men. This is why we need to talk to community leaders, especially in the rural communities, where these victims, most of whom are poor and uneducated, are found so that the change can be effective, starting from the grassroots upwards,” Aigbe said.
The founder of Felix King Charity Foundation, Mr Felix King, expressed sadness over the continued maltreatment of widows in many societies in Nigeria and spoke of the commitment of his foundation to end it in all its forms and manifestations in all parts of Africa.
He said the foundation, established in 2016, organised the International Summit for Widows in Nigeria and had since made several interventions in the quest to ease the suffering of widows.
“Our interventions to make life easier for widows have been designed to create an environment of inclusion for these women, empower them to be financially independent, enable them to feel and experience the love of society one more time and create a healthy environment for their equally deprived children to be integrated into the society through education and other enabling welfare interventions,” he stated.
While appreciating the support being provided by Desmond Elliot and Mercy Aigbe on the projects, King revealed that the foundation would host an International Widows Summit in Benin, capital of Edo State, during the International Widows Day on June 23, 2017, to further highlight the need to protect the rights of widows in Nigeria.
He said it was already on the quest to raise one million signatures across Nigeria in support of the need to abolish all negative widowhood practices in Nigeria and Africa.
“We intend to collect at least one million signatures of Nigerians and Africans in general, in support of the abolition of these negative practices. We are also hoping to forward these signatures and a Bill to the Edo State House of Assembly for a law that will criminalise the maltreatment of widows. We are hoping that after this first step, same effort will be replicated across the other 35 states and Abuja and, by so doing, make this needed change happen,” King noted.