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The United Nations have marked today as International Widows’ Day, this may seem like a surprising day to recognise. Some may question why there is even a need for a Widows’ Day. Across the world many women find the death of their husband is only the beginning of a traumatic journey and often a decline into poverty. The day is observed to highlight the plight of these women in the hope that together we can support them in making their voices heard and, as a global community, we can address the issues that they face.
I have been reading the stories of women in Cameroon that have found themselves in this exact situation. The stories are heart-breaking. The very moment these women needed comfort and support the most, was so often the moment their lives fell apart. These women depended on their husbands, not only for an income, but also for protection and status within their communities. When their husbands died they found themselves as outcasts within their villages and denied their rights. Shockingly, some of were even accused of killing their husbands and therefore suffered abuse from family members or other village members.
In Cameroon, many widows find themselves homeless as their husband’s family no longer want to support them, their houses and land are taken from them. As these women have had very little schooling they do not understand what rights they have and are unable to fight against this theft of their property. Other women only find out after their husband’s death that their marriages have been annulled without their knowledge, or that if their husband has another wife they may not be entitled to anything. Usually, having relied on their husbands for income, the women find themselves in a desperate situation. These women then undertake work to try to support themselves and their children, yet often go hungry. The work is sometimes seasonal and reliant on a good harvest, or due to their age they face discrimination and are fired.
It’s hard to imagine that at such a terrible time these women have been unable to properly grieve as their lives have been thrown into turmoil. I was pleased to find out that many of these women have managed to change their lives around with the support of All We Can. They are now independent and are able to support themselves. Training in local groups has meant that the women are able to better understand how to raise pigs for sale or how to run a small business. They are no longer dependent on the generosity of others or forced to go hungry. Instead, many women are proud that they can now afford to send their children to school, or even begin to save money in the bank. This has given them back their dignity and improved their lives. Some women have developed knowledge surrounding their rights and feel confident enough to stand up and ask for help to protect them.
International Widows Day is important as it gives us an opportunity to recognise and reflect on the struggle that these women are facing. Together, we can help be part of the solution – to allow their voices to be heard, their problems to be recognised, and to enable opportunities for widows to lead happier lives.
Meet four inspiring and courageous women from Cameroon who are fighting poverty and injustice.