‘Champion’ widows

Assistant Minister for Women Veena Bhatnagar, withgarland and spectacles, among women of Lautoka who were part of the inaugural training for the Lifebread Stay Connected Foundation (Fiji) at the Almanah Hope Centre. Picture: SUPPLIED

Assistant Minister for Women Veena Bhatnagar, withgarland and spectacles, among women of Lautoka who were part of the inaugural training for the Lifebread Stay Connected Foundation (Fiji) at the Almanah Hope Centre. Picture: SUPPLIED

THE society we live in and the different circumstances we go through every day are challenging. Most people struggle daily just to make ends meet, put food on their table and send their children to school.

Amid these struggles, men and women work silently just to ensure their daily needs are met.

Do we even stop for a moment to think about those who single-handedly take on the responsibilities which in other families shared by two people?

That’s maybe because, for whatever reason, they are single mothers and fathers who have worked hard for years to ensure the best for their families. Undoubtedly, among them are those whose husbands have died because of sickness or unforeseen circumstances — widows.

For years, widows have led their own households playing the important role of being a father and a mother. It can be said that most are champions in their own rights, having raised their children successfully not only academically but in all aspects of life.

Earlier last week, Assistant Minister for Women Veena Bhatnagar commended the work of the Lifebread Stay Connected Foundation (Fiji) for the milestone achievement of the inaugural training at the Almanah Hope Centre which has given hope and empowerment to disadvantaged widows and women in Fiji helping them acquire the necessary education and skills to build sustainable livelihoods for them and their families.

In her statement, the assistant minister highlighted that in the developing world, widows generally suffer loss of household income and assets, lack favourable inheritance rights, lack social/governmental support system, suffer violations of human rights and suffer from violence and harmful traditional practices.

She also shared with the ladies some incidences of the injustice that used to happen to widows in our communities to exemplify what really women have had to go through when their husbands died.

Ms Bhatnagar highlighted that some years back, priests would ask women to move away from the altar at a wedding ceremony because she was a widow and she could bring bad luck to the couple, even if it was her own child whom she raised alone after her husband’s demise.

Also in the Hindu custom, women were not allowed to wear coloured clothing for the rest of their lives after their husbands died.

In rural India until this day, widows are forced to shave their heads and not participate in the supposed joyous functions.

In the ancient iTaukei culture, the assistant minister noted that widows were stopped from going out of their homes or participate in any functions, from combing their hair and wearing coloured clothes for hundred nights after their husbands died.

These incidences, she noted, showed two things, that the practices seemed like a punishment to widows. And two, these rules did not apply to any man whose wife had died.

“Let us imagine, a woman loses someone she loved, who was her partner in happiness and sorrow, in good and bad times. She now is burdened with the responsibilities of the home to be dealt with alone.

“She probably has no source of livelihood of her own. She has children who have lost their father and she now has to raise them alone. She probably has elderly members in the family to support too.

“Let us for just a second imagine what a woman in that state must be going through … the emotions she deals with … the thoughts that must go through her mind at that point in time.

“And here the society stands up in arms with discriminatory practices in her way to not encourage or help her, but to push her even further down!”

The assistant minister highlighted that we are fortunate that those times have changed, and these inhumane practices have been chucked out the window.

However, she noted that discrimination might be happening in some other forms today.

“We as a society really need to look around us and ask ourselves, are we really treating everyone as equals, are we really treating each other with the humanity and values that our religions teach us?

“In Fiji, we are lucky that the Government and passionate civil society organisations have programs that are aimed at helping disadvantaged women as such.

“Equality is the constitutional right of every Fijian and Government implements necessary policies and invests heavily in key sectors to ensure non-discrimination and equal opportunity for every Fijian alike.

“The concept of empowering disadvantaged persons is always a better way of helping a person rather than manifesting the hand-out mentality.”

While social protection programs for widows are in place, the Department of Women also supports income generating projects of women’s groups of various backgrounds to better their livelihoods.

The Women’s Ministry highlighted that without skills, support, or opportunity, widows often succumb to the viscous cycle of poverty.

There are an estimated 285 million widows in the developing world. Over 115 million of these widows live in abject poverty. Some are forced into servitude or beggary, and those with children are forced to compromise their welfare.

“As people, we need to keep developing meaningful ways of improving the lives of those who suffer the kind of discrimination widows do. Government cannot do this alone.

“We can run hundreds of programs but they cannot work if mind-sets in our societies do not change … if we do not accept that being a widow in no way means a woman is no longer a part of the society.”

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