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Widows deserve protection: Zanzibar President Zanzibar President Dr Hussein Ali Mwinyi poses with special guest speakers who include First Lady Dr Auxillia Mnangagwa, Zanzibar First Lady Mrs Mariam Mwinyi and former First Lady of Tanzania Mrs Anna Mkapa during the African Widows Summit on Thursday. — Pictures: John Manzongo.

Tendai Rupapa in ZANZIBAR 

LIKE other special groups in society, widows deserve protection such as social security so that they do not fail to meet the basic human needs of getting decent services, Zanzibar President Dr Hussein Ali Mwinyi has said.

He made the remarks at the first-of-its-kind three-day session of The African Widows Summit (TAWS) being attended by many high-ranking officials, including First Lady Dr Auxillia Mnangagwa, who received a special invitation from the organisers in recognition of her efforts to educate and empower widows.

Losing a spouse is a devastating experience whether it happens after a long illness or without any warning, therefore, in Zimbabwe, Dr Mnangagwa through the First Lady’s Widows Association, is giving much-needed support to widows through various income-generating projects and empowering them with knowledge from legal experts on inheritance issues.

She respects their grief journey, listens to their challenges and empowers them so that they sustain themselves and their children.

For many, widowhood feels surreal, like the whole world has shifted thereby losing hope but Amai Mnangagwa through her Angel of Hope Foundation is touching lives and giving hope to these hopeless women.

Delegates at TAWS said they had so much to learn from Dr Mnangagwa’s initiatives since the challenges faced by widows across the continent were the same.

Officially opening the conference, President Mwinyi said in some societies and cultures, widows were abused and excluded.

“It is an obvious fact that many widows around the world face various life challenges including stigma and social problems. Indeed, widows like other special groups in society deserve protection such as social security, but the process of getting there has been difficult. This situation causes many widows to fail to meet the basic human needs. In some societies and cultures, widows are abused and excluded.

“Recognising the challenges of widows, the International Community has been taking various steps to address them. In 2010, the United Nations officially declared June 23 of each year as International Widows Day. This is a day when all nations consider the best way to achieve justice and fight poverty for widows and their dependents. In addition, in 2022, the United Nations passed a resolution to Combat the Poor Conditions of Widows following great efforts by various institutions advocating for the interests of widows,” he said.

President Mwinyi congratulated TAWS organisers for hosting the summit.

Zanzibar President Dr Hussein Ali Mwinyi addresses delegates during the African Widows Summit on Thursday.

“These efforts are a continuation of previous steps where the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1979 and entered into force in 1981. 

“The convention aims to eliminate discrimination against women in all spheres of life, including political, economic, social, cultural and civil rights. The convention has been ratified by almost all countries in the world, making it one of the most widely supported human rights treaties in the world. I commend the theme of this Summit which is “Women in Widowhood; Reforming the African Space”. 

This theme reflects the theme of the 2024 International Women’s Day which says, “Invest in women: Accelerate development”. 

The theme, he said, aims to increase awareness of good and sustainable policies for widows, as well as their implementation and monitoring by focusing on the empowerment and inclusion of widows and women in political, economic and social activities in Africa. 

“There are more women than men in the world and women have great potential, especially when they are empowered to initiate and implement their affairs. 

“There are many examples of women in Africa and around the world who hold high positions of leadership in institutions and countries and indeed they have been doing a good job. We need to create an enabling and sustainable environment for the development of African women.

“The UN Women Declaration Report published in 2017 on women shows that there are more than 258 million widows worldwide, of whom more than 115 million live in extreme poverty. The situation of African widows has continued to deteriorate due to various factors including customs, culture and legal systems. After losing their spouses, African widows often find themselves denied rights, opportunities and resources and find themselves in difficult living conditions and unable to support themselves and their families. It is clear that the harmful practices perpetuated by some African societies are holding back the progress of widows and mothers in general and there is every reason to condemn and fight them together and with all our might,” he said.

President Mwinyi said in African countries, widows often find themselves heading households/families after the deaths of their husbands. 

“Female-headed households face many challenges including difficult economic conditions and social stigma. Widows are forced to struggle to support their households/families financially while being denied inheritance rights or access to the property of their deceased spouses. This situation leads to poverty and limited access to education and health services for their children.

Zanzibar President Dr Hussein Ali Mwinyi, guest speakers and delegates watch a video of the initiatives being done by First Lady Dr Auxillia Mnangagwa to uplift and empower widows in Zimbabwe during the African Widows Summit in Zanzibar on Thursday.

“I have been informed that in this Summit, there are various topics reflecting the needs of African widows at this time, which will be presented, including in the areas of law, empowerment and policy. Widows need to be formally recognised by law. They need to be respected, they need to be empowered economically and they need quality health services.

“It is our responsibility to ensure that they are not separated, they are not abused, they are not humiliated and they are not despised. These are some of the things that I have been told will be discussed in depth in this Summit,” he said.

The Zanzibar leader said the summit must be used to exchange ideas and experiences to build a future direction for the position of widows on the African continent.

“I also take this opportunity to ask all of you who have been fortunate enough to participate in this Summit to use this opportunity fully in the discussions and other planned activities to be able to help our fellow widows across Africa. I believe by working together, we can build a better future for widows in Africa for years to come. I do not doubt that this Summit will be able to discuss in depth the planned topics and prepare specific and implementable resolutions to address the challenges of widows. In addition, you will be able to advise our African Governments on the best way to deal with these challenges to increase the scope of widows’ participation in economic and social activities and bring about the well-being of widows and mothers in general and their dependents.

“It is clear that despite the various efforts being made by our African Governments in collaboration with development partners to help widows, these efforts are still not enough. I advise you in this meeting to use the opportunity to devise strategies that will enable you to cope with these challenges and also ensure that there is good coordination along with a work plan for the implementation of the resolutions that will be adopted. 

“It is important to get resolutions that can be an important starting point for Africa’s joint efforts to address this issue of widows. I expect that the resolutions of the meeting will be well coordinated and outline the steps to be taken, and will go further to analyse who is responsible and by when. This will help us together build the Africa we want as defined in the Africa Agenda 2063,” he said.

Zimbabwe is doing immense work towards protecting widows and recently parliament moved to rationalise the powers of the Master of the High Court to ensure the office does not willy-nilly dispose of the property of a deceased’s estate without the permission of a judge of the High Court.

This is meant to enhance the protection of widows, widowers and orphans during disputes over deceased estates.

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