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01.06.2009 Feature Article

What`s the sin of widows?

What`s the sin of widows?
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I AM not an advocate of so-called women's rights for the simple reason that I strongly believe in gender equality.

My late wife and I never had to take the agonizing gender-based decision, as to which of our five children (three girls and two boys) had to go to school, and which of them to stay home.

All five went to school and managed to successfully complete university. They are working in various capacities.

I am also not an advocate of the kind of affirmative policy that is premised on the totally false and fanciful notion that women are less intelligent than men, and therefore, need to be specially treated.

Once again, my three daughters exemplify the idea that what both sexes need is equal opportunity to enable them to develop whatever talent God gave them.

As I have had the occasion to tell my readers, the eldest daughter is a lawyer, the second is a tax expert with a firm of auditors, and the youngest is reasonably well up in the hierarchy of a mobile phone serve provider, a multinational company.

Having said all this, let me admit that in spite of the remarkable advances made by our women in Ghana and Africa, a great deal still remains to be done to create more opportunities and remove grave and inhuman injustices perpetrated against our women.

What readily comes to mind is the unjustifiable maltreatment of widows. Indeed, the way our African societies treat widows is a very serious indictment of us. It shows how inhuman, backward and primitive we still are.

On television the other day, a partial catalogue of what widows can be made to go through, made shocking listening.

We were told that in some of our ethnic groups, a big container would be placed before the widow, and she would be asked to fill the container with her tears. That would show not only her grief for her departed husband, but would also prove her innocence, as far as the death was concerned. Some husbands can be cruel and uncaring. The wife may have tolerated the bad treatment meted out to her by her husband, because, for one reason or another, she did not want the marriage to break up.

The death of such a husband may bring a big relief to the widow. Yet, this poor woman is forced to endure this meaningless and stupid ritual of weeping into a bowl to prove her love and innocence.

There was this other one in which, we are told, the widow is forced to stay the night in the same room, and near the bed on which her dead husband is laid! What kind of insanity is that?

Can you imagine anything more sadistic, more primitive, and more criminal than this? Think of the fact that even men fear ghosts, or even the sight of dead bodies. Why should human beings, supposedly created in the image of God, subject fellow human beings, already grieving, to this kind of torture? In some of our ethnic groups, the widow is lucky if she happens to have a kind mother-in-law, and equally kind sisters-in-law.

On the pretext that the widow is going to have her bath, her attendants, mainly the sisters-in-law, will smuggle in a boiled egg or two, so that the widow can eat it in the security of the bathroom. Cruel mothers-in-law and sisters-in-law can make life truly hard for the poor widow.

It is said that in some places, widows must pay money for their water, while in other places hot pepper is put in the eyes of the poor widow.

We learn that in Nigeria, some of the water used to wash the dead body of the husband, is given to the widow to drink to prove that she had no hand in the death of her husband.

In the Cameroon, widows must demonstrate in graphic detail how they used to have sex with their husbands. They carry out the demonstration naked. God knows what other forms of torture widows go through in this country and across Africa.

The interesting thing is that the women of the dead man's family are the ones who take cruel delight in carrying out the torture.

Mothers-in-law and sisters-in-law feel that it is time for vengeance for real or imagined hurts inflicted on them by the widow, while their son or brother was alive.

Do you know what it is about mothers? When their married daughters are taken good care of by their (daughters') husbands, then it is O.K. “Oh, as for my daughter, she has a very good husband in Kofi. He takes good care of her, and he also takes good care of me and the rest of our family.”

This same mother hates the very idea of her son also taking good care of his wife, even if the son also takes good care of her. No matter how well her daughter-in-law treats her, she is never satisfied.

Of course, there are very good mothers-in-law who treat their daughters-in-law like their real daughters. But the cruel, greedy ones can be real terrors. And there are many of them.

I am also not saying that there are only good daughters-in-law. Some can be so off-putting that they virtually stop their husbands' relations from visiting or staying with them, even as these wives bring all manner or their own relatives into the husbands' home. But, does that justify putting pepper in the widows' eyes, or making them drink part of the water which has been used to wash the body of the dead husbands?

There are many individuals and organisations supposedly interested in fighting injustices against women. What should also concern them is not just gender parity, such as how many women are in Parliament or in certain positions of responsibility. They should also take the fight to their fellow women who put their bodies, minds and souls in torturing their fellow women whose only crime is that they have lost their husbands.

They should not only fight to stop the torture, but also the cruel attempt to deprive the widow and her children of a share in the property of the dead man. Due to the cruel action of the dead man's family, his children may stop school and become criminals, while the dead man's brother or nephew feeds fat on the toil of the dead man, his wife and children?

Beyond talk, what are our women's rights advocates doing about female genital mutilation? What are they doing about the strange idea that operates in certain communities that pregnant women should not eat eggs or meat, lest their unborn babies become thieves later in life? What are they doing about automatically seeing aged women who are poor and illiterate as witches?

Let me repeat that out women have made great strides, but a lot still remains to be done to remove the injustices and cruelties that hamper the march of our women. Widows deserve better.

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