By VICTORIA NGOZI IKEANO
A widow is a woman who has lost her husband. And what do we call a husband that has lost his wife? As defined by the Encarta English dictionary, while a woman whose husband has died is known as a widow, “a man whose wife has died, particularly when he has not remarried, is called a widower”. The word, “widower”, is not common in the Nigerian and African society. It is hardly used. Rather, we are all more familiar with the term “widow”, for anytime we use or utter the word ‘widow’, our mind reverts to the woman. This is due in part to the patriarchal nature of our society.
The second reason is our cultural norms and values which are skewed against girls/women generally and widows in particular. In our society, the man/husband is considered as the head of the household, he makes decisions for the family with or without the input of the wife. Where he condescends to get the input of his wife before taking a decision he is viewed by the society as a weakling. The wife is considered the ‘property’ of the husband in the traditional sense.
Women are discriminated against right from birth as male children are valued more than female children in our society. If faced with the choice of who to send to school between a male and female child due to financial or other handicaps, the average Nigerian will cast his lot for the male child.
One can cite many other examples of how girls are discriminated against; suffice it however, to say that this discrimination is carried over from childhood to adulthood.
All of these point to the inequality between both sexes, that is, men and women. Thus, there are many actions of men that can be forgiven and taken as normal but which are considered an abomination if undertaken by a woman.
In practice, men and women are not equal before the law in our society. Men are highly favoured in our society. This is not surprising in that those who wield political authority and make decisions for our country are mainly men who would not want women to rub shoulders with them as equals.
You would recall that some time ago, the National Assembly shot down a bill that sought to make female children have equal share of their parents’ property as their male siblings. Our lawmakers voted against it for cultural reasons.
The opponents argued that male children have more responsibilities than female ones because they take care of their families when married while the married female children are catered for by their husbands and taken care of when still in their parents’ house. Therefore, the males should have a larger share of what is inherited by the children, so goes the argument. In some other parts of our country, women are not even entitled to any share of property and other assets left behind by their parents or husbands.
The saying, “what is good for the goose is good for the gander” does not apply in our society. Rather, what we have here is a case of what is good for the goose (man) is not good for the gander (woman). Overall, the consequence of this discrimination cum inequality between men and women in our society is that women (together with children) are the most vulnerable in our society. Thus, whereas a widower is more or less able to stand on his feet, it is not so for a widow (female).
Soon after her spouse’s death, his belongings are shared out among her husband’s brothers. And although the inheritors pledge to take care of their brother’s children and wife, this is easier said than done. In practice, the widow after a rather short period is left to fend for herself and children.
What happens is that the inheritors try to fulfil their pledge to their brother’s family during the first and second months, after which their support gradually wanes off altogether. So, the widow literally goes cap in hand begging for support to be able to provide succour for herself and her children. For most widows, this is demeaning.
Some wealthy individuals in a community often dole out gifts to widows in their society during festivals like Christmas and Sallah. Much as this is a commendable gesture, it is nevertheless a once in a blue moon largess that cannot sustain the widows for long. Everybody feels more esteemed when he/she is able to fend for himself/herself or family. Therefore, our politicians, governors wives et al, should endeavour to empower widows through various skills acquisition and entrepreneurship programmes via their foundations since the essence of these and other non-governmental organisations is to improve living conditions of the most vulnerable in our country, amongst which are widows.
Still, the longterm solution to the sorry condition of widows is to remove the political, economic and social discriminations against women. Women and men are like one half of each other which together make a whole that gives full value. A woman’s appointed tasks are just as important as the man’s. None should be made to feel inferior to the other but should be treated equally. They should stand side by side (not in front or behind the other) and working together, give full value to their activities and being.
Ikeano writes via [email protected]