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20.05.2004 Regional News

"Upper East Widows bear the brunt of poverty", research report.

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Widows and Orphans in the Upper East Region suffer most from poverty and malnutrition, a research conducted in the area has shown.

The Widows and Orphans Ministry (WOM), an NGO based in Bolgatanga early this year commissioned the study, which looked into the "root cause of poverty among widows in the Upper East Region." The researchers interviewed 225 people drawn from the Nabdam, Talensi, Builsa, Gurune and the Kassena-Nankana ethnic groups in the region. It showed that tradition demanded of widows to contribute a lot both in kind and cash to deceased husband's funeral but they were not supposed to inherit property.

The widows were mostly left to care for themselves and their children with little or no support from relatives of deceased husbands. Commenting on the research findings at a forum in Bolgatanga on Thursday, Madam Betty Ayagiba, Director of WOM, said orphans from such families usually drop out of school because their mothers were unable to cope with the payments of school fees.

She said even though some Churches, NGOs and kind individuals were helping the more than 7000 widows in the region, majority of them were still struggling on their own.

The research, which also covered Widowhood rites, showed that many of the widows found it dehumanising to go through the rites. These rites involve striping widows naked and dressing them in fresh leaves of the shea tree to cover only their pubis and the grove between the buttocks.

The practice among the people of the areas where the study was carried out is that for four days, widows undergoing these "purification rites" bath openly outside the house, talk to no one and are isolated. They are also exposed to black ants while in isolation and a bite from an ant indicates unfaithfulness to a dead husband. This often requires harsh and humiliating purification rituals.

It is believed that failure to undergo these rituals could cause the deceased husband's spirit to hunt the widow. In some cases, sickness, misfortune or even death could befall such widows. The WOM appealed to chiefs, elders and opinion leaders to abolish these negative socio-cultural practices undermine the dignity of the woman.

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