It was indeed a con
vergence of widows from the 23 local government areas of Rivers State at the Ministry of Justice Auditorium, Port Harcourt recently to celebrate this year’s International Widows Day.
International Widows Day was established by the Loomba Foundation, India, to raise awareness on the issues of widowhood. It assumed an international status with the United Nations ratifying it as a day of action to address poverty and injustice faced by millions of widows and their dependants. Subsequently, in 2010, it was officially recognised by the United Nations and observed on June 23, every year.
In line with the theme of this year’s celebration, “Invisible Women, Invisible Problems”, speakers were drawn from various fields to educate the widows on how to address their plights by making themselves very visible and their plights well known. Topics like Legal Rights of Widows, Invisible Health Challenges As It Relates To Widows”, were handled by renowned persons in different fields, with a call for the widows not to see themselves as being disadvantaged but to strive and use their status to serve God and humanity. This they said can only be possible when the widows improve themselves both financially, educationally and otherwise.
The Chairman of the occasion, Prof Rosaline Konya, admonished the widows to be prayerful, hardworking and resilient. “You need to know that God is your husbands, if you depend on man, man will fail you but God will never fail you”, she said.
Konya who is also a widow and the State Commissioner for Environment, noted that most harmful widowhood practices were being perpetrated by women and called on the women and the entire society to desist from such “barbaric, un-christian acts”.
Earlier in her welcome address, the State Commissioner for Women Affairs, Barr (Mrs) Ukel Oyaghiri, observed that in Nigeria, particularly in Rivers State, widows are often confronted with lives of denial of inheritance and land rights degrading and life-threatening mourning and burial rites and obnoxious harmful widowhood practices. She said, widows across the world are faced with several challenges like poverty, violence, segregation, harmful traditional practices and many more.
Barrister Oyaghiri noted that when a woman dies, the bereaved husband is encouraged to cope with the situation while the reverse is the case when a man dies, stressing that our culture should embrace the Sustainable Development Goals number five, which talks about gender equality, and gives the widow equal treatment as the widower.
The highly elated commissioner called for the empowerment of widows and the support of all and sundry so that widowhood will cease to be a problem in the state. She also asked for the enforcement of “Dehumanising and Harmful Traditional Practices Law No 2 of 2003 which abolishes the dehumanising and harmful traditional practices in Rivers State, adding that any offenders or perpetrators of these inhuman acts should be brought to justice.
In her commemorative message, wife of the state Governor, Justice Suzzette Nyesom Wike, identified with the plights of the widows and urged them to always speak up so that their problems would be noticed and resolved.
She said though the Dehumanising and Harmful Traditional Practcies Law exists, there is yet to be any case recorded in the law court, premised on that law. She therefore, asked for the effort of all in the state to educate, enlighten, popularize and enforce the law across the nooks and crannies of the state, so that widows can have peace and tranquility.
Justice Wike appealed to traditional rulers, religious leaders, NGOs, companies and all well meaning people in the state to join in the advocacy for the eradication of obnoxious and harmful widowhood practices in the state, adding that various stakeholders and companies should develop programmes aimed at empowerment and sustainability of widows and their children within their host communities.
The first lady also advised women, particularly the young ones to equip themselves in every possible manner like going to school, learning a trade or business or engaging in any economic activity to boost themselves.
In his special message, the State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, assured the continuous support of his government to the widows.
The Governor who was represented by Secretary to the State Government, Chief Kenneth Kobani, disclosed that to reduce the impact of the problems of widows on the entire household, government will set up a widows’ economic empowerment scheme.
He charged the widows not to bury their talents but make good use of them to better themselves and their families .
The Governor further enjoined them to expose and report any person or group of persons breaking the state’s law on elimination of harmful traditional practices, assuring that appropriate actions will be taken against such person(s). He emphasized his administration’s policy of touching all segments of the society.
Expectedly, the widows were thrilled with the Governor’s promises and plans. The President, Widows Association, Rivers State, Mrs Patricia Weli, who spoke on behalf of the widows, thanked the Governor for the kind gesture. She equally appreciated Justice Wike, the Women Affair Commissioner and all those who made this year’s celebration a memorable one.
Similarly, one of the widows, Mrs Paulina Hillary, thanked the state government for identifying with the widows and pledged her support for the Wike’s administration and promised to use the knowledge acquired at the event to better her life. A parting gift of wrappers and cash were presented to all the widows.