Widows deserve equal opportunities: First Lady Some of the widows and orphans follow proceedings during the Widows and Orphans Relief and Development Conference held in Harare. - Pictures: Edward Zvemisha

Leroy Dzenga Senior Reporter

Women who lose their spouses to death should adjust to new conditions and remain resolute in working for their families, First Lady Dr Auxillia Mnangagwa has said.

She said this in a speech read on her behalf by Deputy Minister of Local Government and Public Works, Marian Chombo, while addressing the Widows and Orphans Relief and Development (WORD) Trust Conference in Harare recently.

Word Trust is a religious organisation that assists widows and orphans with spiritual and material support.

Amai Mnangagwa said society should remain alive to the plight of widows.

“Widowhood is experienced differently by every individual depending on circumstances and emotional well-being,” she said.

“However, I would like to encourage every widow here today that the death of your spouse is not the end, but the beginning of a new chapter that needs to be faced with courage and resilience to keep the family functioning normally.”

More should be done, said Dr Mnangagwa, to document circumstances being faced by widows, especially on access to resources and opportunities.

She said it was saddening to note that women were marginalised and their needs sometimes overlooked.

The First Lady said it was equally disappointing to note that in June 2011, the United Nations indicated that widows were absent from statistics and are rarely mentioned in reports on women’s poverty, health and in all social facets.

This, Dr Mnangagwa said, resulted in the sidelining of women in developmental projects.

“Because of the lack of statistics, widows often fall through the net of negligence by global, national and local authorities and mostly overlooked by civil society organisations.

“The situation of widows is invisible (UN June 2011). Yet abuse of widows and their children constitutes one of the most serious violations and millions of the world’s widows endure extreme poverty, ostracism, violence and homelessness,” said Dr Mnangagwa.

Local Government and Public Works Deputy Minister Marian Chombo (right) who was standing in for Angel of Hope Foundation patron First Lady Dr Auxillia Mnangagwa is welcomed by Women’s Affairs representative, Rosemary Musungwa during the Widows and Orphans Relief and Development (WORD) Conference held in Harare

The First Lady said studies had found out that after losing their husbands, a significant number of widows were subjected to difficult conditions by relatives.

“Many widows and orphans, globally and in developing countries face bullying after losing their husbands.

“They are considered bad omen, witches responsible for the deaths of their husband, kicked out of their homes and robbed of their belongings and sometimes raped by the husbands’ brothers or relatives or forced into marriage through nhaka. These circumstances have caused women to resort to prostitution as an alternative means for livelihood and end up in harmful sexual activities,” she said.

The First Lady said the challenges sometimes faced by widows were a result of structural issues that need addressing.

“While Government has put systems in place to ensure that every child remains in school, the situation of the girl child remains critical as they are victims. There is a preference of the boy child to continue with school, whilst the girl is forced into early marriage to older men which brings the potential of being widowed early. This has also ushered low educational status in most women making them unable to continue in job markets,” she said.

Widows who have risen despite losing their loved ones to become sources of hope in communities through assisting others who find themselves in need, got overwhelming praise from the First Lady.

Word Trust founder Mrs Everjoice Makuvire, praised the First Lady for her love and compassion towards orphans and widows, whom she has assisted through various empowerment initiatives. This, Mrs Makuvire said, is why the Trust invited Amai Mnangagwa to address the  conference.

“We have been venturing into various projects, inspired by the work Amai is doing through the Angel of Hope Foundation”.

Mrs Makuvire said their Trust has introduced revolving funds for the women to start their businesses and so far, the success rate has been good. She said this was their way of also contributing to national development.

Senior cleric, Dr Roy Musasiwa, who had been playing an advisory role to Word Trust, said he has seen the organisation grow in leaps and bounds.

“I remember when Makuvire started, there were a few ladies who were committed to help each other and grow spiritually.

“The growth I have seen lately is encouraging and they now have an international presence. I am proud to have seen such progress,” said Dr Musasiwa.

The event was also graced by Zambian preacher, Bishop Oscar Lungu.

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