Phillipa Mukome-Chinhoi Herald Correspondent
Zimbabwe joined the rest of the world on Thursday in commemorating the International Widows Day as part of efforts to create awareness about the situation of widows across the planet.
According to the United Nations estimates, there are around 258 million widows around the world and nearly one in every 10 widows lives in extreme poverty.
Some women have taken it upon themselves to form organisations to assist those facing challenges of poverty.
These organisations also teach women not to rely on the husband’s salary or one source of income as this will cause suffering when the husband dies.
“Widows of Substance director, Ms Mavis Mundirwa said she started the organisation because of her experiences of being widowed at a young age. She realised that with the advancement in technology widows could now network and share ideas and experiences.
“Widows of Substance is a safe haven for widows to share their experiences with people who understand without judging them,” she said.
“Our organisation is a support group for widows and former widows. It was started in 2016 and has local, regional and international membership.
“Widows face five major challenges which include grief, loneliness, single parenting, poverty and inheritance problems with in-laws.
“We work with counsellors to help widows navigate grief. We also work with relationship coaches who help our widows with deal with loneliness and relationships with in-laws,” she said.
The greatest challenge that widows are facing during this pandemic is that of poverty because some lost their jobs and incomes were reduced for some.
The organisation has an empowerment group where members are trained on income generating projects that include manufacturing soap, detergents, beverages and baking.
They also fundraise for different causes like bereavement, special occasions like weddings for members of the group. The group also supports each other paying school fees and start-up money for chicken rearing projects.
Here in Zimbabwe churches now have clubs for widows, this has helped to empower them to do projects to look after their families.
The loss of a partner is devastating. For many women around the world, especially in developing countries, that loss is magnified by a long-term struggle for their basic needs, their human rights and dignity.
According to the United Nation, the Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the situation as many lives were lost leaving tens of thousands of women widowed at just the time when they are cut off from their usual socio-economic and family supports.
In Africa, widows are often denied inheritance rights, have their property grabbed after the death of a partner, and can face extreme stigma and discrimination, as perceived ‘killers of their husbands’.
Worldwide, women are much less likely to have access to old age pensions than men, so the death of a spouse can lead to destitution for older women.
In the context of lockdowns and economic closures, widows may not have access to bank accounts and pensions to pay for healthcare if they too become ill or to support themselves and their children.
Widows of Substance organisation does fundraising events once a year to coincide with International Widows Day where it raises money for the different projects.
However, because of the pandemic they have been unable to meet in their numbers during 2020 and 2022 except for special occasions but to a limited extent.
The group of widows wrote a book “The Loneliness of Widowhood” which has seven powerful stories. The stories are meant to empower and inspire other widows.
Widows of Substance also thanked the First Lady, Amai Auxillia Mnangagwa for the awareness campaigns on inheritance issues that ran from 2018 to 2019.
The awareness campaigns came at a time when widows and orphans were being left wallowing in poverty by greedy relatives who abused their positions to enjoy a deceased relative’s wealth at the expense of his or her immediate family.
People also learnt on who should benefit from the estate generally.
There was a misconception in some quarters that a girl child is not entitled to inheritance.
Others were of the misguided view that only children under the age of 18 years were entitled to inheritance.
The workshops assisted in explaining and clarifying the inheritance issues as provided in the relevant statutes. People got to know their standing with regards to inheritance entitlement, misunderstandings over who gets what were reduced resulting in improvement in finalisation of estates.
Widows have been saved from property grabbing where relatives would distribute assets during funerals or memorial services.
International Widows Day was introduced by the United Nations in 2011 to highlight the voices of widows. The day is meant to take action for the complete rights and recognition of widows. Notably, before the United Nations, the day was observed by the Loomba Foundation in 2005. The foundation chose June 23 to mark International Widows Day as on this day in 1954, founder Rajinder Paul Loomba’s mother Shrimati Pushpa Wati Loomba became a widow.
International Widows Day is significant as it assists in amplifying the voices of widows. One of its major aims is to spread awareness about hardships faced by widows and to promote policies favouring them.