According to United Nations Statistics, it is estimated that there are some 258 million widows around the world, with over 115 million of them living in deep poverty, and 86 million have suffered physical abuse.
At least 2/3 of the widows come from Africa due to the effects of HIV and AIDs, war and conflicts. Among the people who flee conflict and civil unrest and become refugees and IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) is a sub-group of widows, whose unique concerns are usually not addressed adequately, because they are mixed together with the entire group. There are also widows who are grandmothers looking after grandchildren in most cases where the parents have succumbed to HIV and AIDs related illnesses. These widows have very particular problems that are not even known in the churches. Widows in Africa, are therefore of different categories and contribute to a large percentage of female-headed households.
The call for churches’ commitment to address the plight of widows in Africa was raised at the 11th General Assembly of the All Africa Conference of churches (AACC) in July 2018. In order to respond to this call, the AACC Women, Gender and Youth Department is committed to engage church leaders on possible ways of addressing the plight of widows in the continent through advocacy, capacity building and incentives.
The main objective of the programme is to engage church leaders on the biblical mandate to address the plight of widows. Specific objectives are:
Conduct an awareness/advocacy campaign on the plight of widows in the continent including widows in IDP and Refugee camps
Establish a fund as an incentive from which interested churches can apply to run widows’ programs
Encourage churches to intentionally undertake programs together with widows that will lead to widows’ economic empowerment, innovation and sustainability including widows in IDP and Refugee camps
Create awareness among widows about their rights.
Encourage church leaders to celebrate the International Widows’ Day (IWD) annually on 23rd June
Publish materials for peer learning and motivation to church leaders on the plight of widows
The All Africa Conference of Churches has since then produced a documentary which highlights the plight of widows in Africa; case study Zambia.
Generally, some of the common challenges faced by widows in Africa include: dehumanizing widowhood rites such as being forced to drink the water that has washed her husband’s dead body, and wife inheritance, torture by the late husband’s family and community including confiscation of their property, denial of inheritance and land rights, poverty, shock, social discrimination, loneliness and depression, among others.
Additionally, experiences of widows in refugee camps or IDPs are more acute, as they live in abject poverty and discrimination, especially where there are no interventions to support or create safe spaces for them, besides their challenge of decision-making in matters of resettlement. Children of poor widows, whether refugees or not, are usually unable to continue with education due to financial constraints, leaving them more vulnerable to forced labour and human trafficking.
Empowering all widows economically and socially, can therefore boost the economy and social relations, not only in their families but also in the society and the nation at large, and consequently break the cycle of poverty, as a means of achievement of most of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).