Posted: Sunday 22nd June 2014 at 20:36 pm

Education key to empowerment of widows, women – Mrs. Rawlings


Former First Lady, Nana Konadu Agyeman-Rawlings has, in an address to mark International Widows Day, stated that while the Intestate Succession Law protects widows, the lack of awareness of this law, the lack of access to legal redress and a lack of confidence in the judicial system make widows still very vulnerable in the society.

Nana Konadu said: ‘Widows still face some forms of discrimination and continue to succumb to abuse because of an ingrained belief system; because of fear of retribution from their communities, because of a lack of a support system, because of a lack of awareness and education.’

She called for education to equip women with knowledge, skills and self-confidence to contribute to development at all levels.

The former First Lady who delivered the keynote address at the 6th National Widows Alliance Conference organised by the Mama Zimbi Foundation at the Trade Fair Centre, La on Saturday, noted that African women are caught in a continuous struggle with traditions, cultural norms, and societal practices that disempower and discriminate against them.

‘We are all too familiar with the millions of widows on our continent whose husbands died in armed conflicts, in genocides, from natural disasters and diseases such as HIV/AIDS and malaria, and are living in poverty. The Ebola virus, according to the WHO has already claimed 337 lives in West Africa. This was announced last week.  How many women have been left without their husbands because of this deadly virus? How many children have lost their fathers?’ Nana Konadu stated.

She described the commemoration of the International Widows Day by the Mama Zimbi Foundation as a call to action to raise awareness of the plight of widows.

 
 
Below is the full text of Nana Konadu Agyeman-Rawlings’ address.

 
 
Empowering Women Through Education
Address by Her Excellency Mrs Nana K. Agyeman Rawlings            Former First Lady of the Republic of Ghana                                                     at the 6th National Widows Alliance Conference under the Auspices of the Mama Zimbi Foundation, International Trade Fair Centre, Accra       June 21 2014

 
 
 
The Mama Zimbi Foundation,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
 
I am delighted to be here with you today.
Mama Zimbi, your dedication to our cause – the empowerment of women – is admirable.

 
Tomorrow marks International Widow’s Day: the fourth to be celebrated since the United Nations in 2011, declared the 23rd of June International Widows Day, in order to bring attention and raise awareness to the plight of widows around the world who have been evicted from their homes; whose children have been forcibly taken from them; who are suffering from health problems; who have been subjected to violence; societal ostracism; homelessness, and other forms of human rights violations.

 
According to the United Nations, of the 245 million widows world wide, an estimated 115 million are currently living in poverty and 81 million have suffered physical abuse. The majority of widows around the world are poor rural women who have no legal protection by law. In the instances where countries have created laws to protect widows, these laws are poorly enforced and these women have little or no access to legal redress against discriminatory practices meted onto them by their communities and families.

 
Here in Africa, we are all too familiar with the plight of our women who are in a continuous struggle against traditions, cultural norms and societal practices that disempower and discriminate against them. We are all too familiar with the millions of widows on our continent whose husbands died in armed conflicts, in genocides, from natural disasters and diseases such as HIV/Aids and malaria, and are living in poverty. The Ebola virus, according to the WHO has already claimed 337 lives in West Africa. This was announced last week.  How many women have been left without their husbands because of this deadly virus? How many children have lost their fathers?

 
Ladies and Gentlemen,
When an African woman loses her husband in a society that already discriminates against her by virtue of her gender, she is viewed as impure and treated inhumanly. The extent to these discriminatory practices varies from culture to culture on our continent, however, what remains a constant factor is the violation of the rights of widows.

 
In the developing world, least of all here in Africa, a woman is defined by her marital status. Her place in society is in turn, defined by that of her husband’s. Therefore, when her husband dies, society takes away her social status and humiliates her through the imposition of widowhood rites that may involve physically and psychologically damaging acts. In some communities, she is expected to shave her head, sit on the bare floor in the presence of the corpse of her husband, injest substances that may be harmful to her health as testament to her innocence over her husband’s death. In other instances, she is compelled to marry the brother of the deceased – one of her few options for societal acceptance. Even as the pragmatic rationale behind marrying one of her dead husband’s brothers may be appreciated, it negates the woman’s fundamental right to choose.

 
Beyond the loss of her social status, widows suffer societal exclusion. Her economic status is affected as well because she loses her home and is denied access to her deceased husband’s property and land by his extended family, and by the community. This invariably affects the education of her children who are forced to stop school and find work on the streets, which then perpetuates the cycle of poverty on our continent.

 
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The commemoration of International Widows Day is a decisive stance against indignity. It is a call to action.  The 6th National Widows Alliance Conference today, under the auspices of the Mama Zimbi Foundation, is our call to action to raise awareness of the widow’s plight in our communities.

 
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Ghana is one of the few countries in Africa that has passed legislation that ensures that widows and their children are granted a fair share of the estate of the deceased. Over twenty years ago, I witnessed the heart-wrenching stories from widows who were forcibly evicted, along with their children, by their own in-laws as a result of an unfair inheritance system. These widows had no legal recourse, which made it even more difficult to seek redress under our justice system. In my quest to change this, I sought help from members of the legal profession to support me in introducing an inheritance law that will protect women and their young children if the husband dies without a will. The Interstate Law 111 thus came into effect in the 1980s and today, widows in Ghana are protected by law.

 
This inheritance law is a huge step in the right direction, however, the lack of awareness of this law, the lack of access to legal redress, combined with a lack of confidence in the judicial system makes widows still very vulnerable in our society.

 
Widows still face some forms of discrimination and continue to succumb to abuse because of an ingrained belief system; because of fear of retribution from their communities, because of a lack of a support system, because of a lack of awareness and education.

 
Ladies and Gentlemen,
How do we protect widows in our society?
How do we ensure that the existing laws to protect widows are enforced How do we advocate for the passing of more laws to protect all human rights of widows?

How do we utilise the arsenal of tools in our governance system to change society’s perception of widows?

How do we take decisive action against tradition, against religious practices, against the patriarchal society that deprives women of their right to equal participation in development because they have lost their husbands?

 
The solution to these questions begins with the empowerment of our own gender. It begins at our own self-empowerment.

 
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Empowerment is having a sense of control or gaining further control. It is the ability to make decisions that influence your own life; it is the ability to make social choices and decisions. Being empowered is to gain recognition as an equal contributor to development.

 
One of the most essential means of empowerment is education where women are equipped with knowledge, skills and the self confidence to contribute to development at all levels. In a speech on the role of youth in preventing violence against women and girls, the U.N. Women Executive Director said: ‘Education is the single biggest transformative factor for the individual, the nation and society.’

 
The UNFPA has a profound position statement on Empowering Women Through Education that is also worth sharing. It states:

‘Education is important for everyone, but it is especially significant for girls and women. This is true not only because education is an entry point to other opportunities, but also because the educational achievements of women can have ripple effects within the family and across generations.’

 
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The multiplier effect of an empowered woman can never be overstated: As you may know, my women’s group the 31st December Women’s Movement, has been at the forefront of women’s empowerment. Our   sole objective is to transform the lives of Ghanaian women economically, politically, culturally and socially which we began by developing small-scale business models in agriculture, in food processing and in agro-forestry. As these small-scale enterprises grew, we created business linkages between our women and large-scale buyers, which gave our women access to nationwide markets.

 
With Education at the root of our multi-sectorial approach to empowerment, the 31st December Women’s Movement implemented our non-formal education initiative, which gave rural and urban poor women the opportunity to develop skills and build capacity. Today, I cannot say with enough pride that the Government’s non-formal education section was born from the initiative of a women’s group that was determined to change the status quo of Ghanaian women.

 
We refused to believe that the opportunity to learn and acquire skills had passed women by just because they did not have access to formal education. So we found a way. We implemented an initiative that educated women on their civic and human rights, on family planning and other health matters. We used an interactive theatre technique as one of our tools of imparting knowledge. We trained women. We set up farms, which in some instances created tension between the men in the community and our members. On one occasion, the head of the community ordered the men to burn the cooperative farms of our women. But we pressed on. As the 31st December Women’s Movement grew, we sponsored women to run for political office at the assembly level and in parliament to serve as an inspiration for other women and to ensure that we had a voice at the highest legislative level.

 
Ladies and Gentlemen,
To empower a woman is to give her all the necessary tools to take control of the destiny of her life. To empower a widow is to take a woman in pain, discarded by society and give her all the necessary tools to continue her life as an equal contributor to society.

 
By empowering our widows with knowledge and skills, by providing them with the resources they need to be economically independent, by educating them on their health and their human rights, we are removing that ‘vulnerability factor’ that women face when their husbands die. We are equipping them with the confidence and the means to contribute equally to the sustainability of our society.

 
By creating opportunities for widows, we are sending a message that the days of social exclusion and discrimination of the widow are over. She belongs alongside every member of our society contributing her quota to development.

 
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Mama Zimbi Foundation, through its WANE project for sustainable economic development has taken that bold step to empower widows by giving them the means and the tools to be confident and self-reliant.  The WANE project ensures that:

 
Widows receive vocational training that is marketable within their immediate community; widows are educated on their reproductive health and on their civic rights. Under it’s business finance schemes, the Mama Zimbi Foundation ensures that widows generate income to support themselves and their children.

 
Mama Zimbi, your social integration programmes under the auspices of WANE are working to change societal perceptions of widows. You have created a support system for the widow. She no longer stands alone because Mama Zimbi and over 8000 other women stand with her.

 
Your project has helped in no small way to bolster the confidence of many women who, after the death of their husbands become victims of discrimination, emotional and physical abuse, spending the rest of their days mourning their loss to the detriment of their children and dependants.

 
Today, the work of Mama Zimbi and several progressive women across the country has created a sense of dynamism and ambition not only amongst widows but other hitherto disadvantaged women. Let us continue to nurture this wind of change.

 
Widowhood, even in an environment where the average woman is protected by appropriate legislation is still a tough call. Even where the widow is gainfully employed and has benefitted from the husband’s inheritance, she loses years, if not decades of emotional support that is difficult to replace. WANE’s role in creating a supportive channel for these women is more beneficial to society than many can envisage.

 
By giving a hand of support to the widow, she regains her emotional and economic strength and remains strong to cater for her dependants.

 
I call on our menfolk to also continue to appreciate the roles women play as equal partners in all sectors of development – family, community and national development. National development has faced challenges because men still see the world as theirs and automatically choose men to play important roles, while relegating mundane responsibilities to women.

 
Mama Zimbi, me ma wo mo na ye. I congratulate you and Project WANE for adding another dimension to the bold wave of affirmative action started decades ago.

 
Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentleman;
 
Thank you.
 

Comments:
This article has 0 comment, leave your comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

+