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International Widows Day Celebration 2014 Banquet Hall, National Arts Theatre, Iganmu

All Protocols observed.

Her Excellency Dame Emmanuella Abimbola Fashola

Her Excellency Mrs Victoria Adejoke Orelope- Adefulire

Her Excellency Honorable Minister Women Affairs Department

Her Excellency Onari Duke

Senator Udoakeha Esuene

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen

Gentlemen of the Press

Becoming a Widow is certainly not by Choice!

There are a few who would beg to differ otherwise but majority of the widows who we come across are definitely not happy being widows that much I do know. So if by no fault of their own, they find themselves in this situation, why then would anyone BLAME a widow for what has occurred to her? Why would they be banished from their society? Why would they be PUNISHED by what used to be the loving family members who in fact should indeed be the very ones who support them at this awful period of their lives? Why have we forgotten our widows?

This situation beggar’s belief – I know – but I assure you that these are true life situations our widows in many parts of the world and here in Nigeria find themselves each day. The situation is even more dire as the majority of these women are mothers or mothers-to-be at the time this occurs. Widows are often women in the prime of life, young women who are left as sole carers for their children, alone responsible for their shelter, food, schooling and wellbeing.

Initiated in 2005 by the Loomba Foundation by its founder, Mr. Raj Loomba, International Widows’ Day was officially recognized by the United Nations General Assembly, on the initiative of the Government of Gabon and we are all extremely grateful today that since then, the International Widows Day Celebration has started to build momentum for this cause each year.

Through our NGORoSf, we are keying into this event and reminding the general public of the existence of widows and in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Culture, Tourism and National Orientation, we celebrate every Nigerian widow here today – we say that we are indeed proud of each and every one of you and how far you have all come. We also use this medium to send a goodwill message to widows worldwide – God bless you ALL, you deserve nothing less than to be celebrated, and my prayer is that this event will draw the much needed attention to the challenges and misery widows’ face when challenged with this predicament.

Once upon a time, many of the widows we see today were living the lives that most of us have now. They were living happily with their spouses and children, with a roof over their head and with not worrying about the finances of the home as their husbands were providing. Then suddenly, everything changes in seconds and they are left alone traumatized.

Let us all remember that NO woman is exempted from being a widow – young, old, mothers, mothers to be and newly married, regardless of status, or pedigree, any woman is a target but for the Grace of God. So what we see is in addition to these women coping with their grief, they find themselves alone, abandoned, discriminated, and isolated with no safety net.  In most cases, many of these women end up in abject poverty along with their children, who are then exposed to epidemics and unimaginable abuse of all sorts, sometimes even leading to death.  This is the picture of the widow in our society Nigeria today.

Let me share with you a bit about how I as founder, personally got involved with widows.  In 2006 whilst I was seeking God in prayer for guidance, I can only describe this particular event as the Lord calling the Foundation (Rose of Sharon Foundation) into existence. The actual scripture that He showed me clearly at the time was: James 1:27 ‘Pure Religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this: To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction and keep himself unspotted from the world’. For me this was in line with the fact that I had always had a heart for the downtrodden and needy. It is a passion that I also shared with my family members and some close friends and after lengthy discussions with them we decided to obey the calling of God and birth the Rose of Sharon Foundation.  In addition to my passion for widows, I am also extremely passionate about the empowerment of women and what better way to empower them than through an NGO which was called the ROSF.

Just for some background, The Rose of Sharon Foundation (RoSF) is a private, voluntary, non-profit, faith based, non-governmental organisation focused on working to alleviate the plights of the world’s most vulnerable people- widows and orphans. Since 2008, RoSF have amalgamated into a network of almost a thousand widows today. Since inception, RoSF has empowered 970 widows – 11 of whom are in university, awarded scholarships to 1,366 widow’s children and 72 orphans. The loans we offer to widows are interest free and the scholarships have no conditions attached. The foundation also provides accommodation for residential/business purposes for 82 widows. Moreover, we have provided some free healthcare checkups and free legal services to our widows with the support of other agencies, a capacity building platform through Enterprise Development Training Programs twice a year, Doctor Reach Out Initiatives providing affordable/quality healthcare for widows, their children and orphans and free Counseling and Ministry support through the another subsidiary of the Rose of Sharon Group – Rose of Sharon International Ministry.

What we need in Nigeria today is to put an end to discrimination against widows, by empowering them to ensure that they can live in dignity and be productive members of their society. Presently, they face economic and social exclusion. We therefore need to work together to protect their property and inheritance rights and provide them with essential services. Working together means all the relevant NGO’s, the grassroots leaders Baales, Emirs, Igwes of each region, the church leaders and Imams, WE all  need to pull together to speak in one accord regarding our widows.

Events like this help us to shed light on the plight of the widows and will assist in strengthening the judicial systems to enforce all the laws protecting them, whilst also advocating for more opportunities for empowerment and education of their children.

Unfortunately too many entrepreneurs and corporate organisations in Nigeria feel the challenges of the country lie solely on the shoulders of the Government.  I personally do not feel this is a fair assumption as we all have a part to play in the growth and development of the Nation.  We all have an obligation to be responsible for the social issues which prevail in our country and this includes the plight of the vulnerable members of society. When given thought, these women are our extended family members and neighbors, and if we all do this together we will make a stronger impact than the Government doing it alone.

I would like to use this platform to appeal to the Government to look into legislation for the orientation and the protection of our widows and I hasten to add that they are indeed OUR widows.

I am aware that some states in Nigeria have tried to enact laws to protect the rights of widows. Various NGOs have pushed for the National Assembly to enshrine their rights into the Nigerian Constitution. This would give widows legal protection from these traditional rites, which infringe upon their fundamental human rights as enshrined in the constitution. We also need to ensure that the law prosecutes anyone who abuses these widows as they tend to be assaulted and insulted by these abusers.

We need to educate Nigerians and the general public on what is and  is not the acceptable  way to treat a widow – some of the current traditions in Nigeria are extremely  barbaric to say the very least. They have rights just like you and I do. We need to rise up and see that justice is done.

When writing the widows book The Cry of Widows and Orphans, I included first hand testimonies from widows who have survived their ordeals to enable us highlight the dreadful ordeals these women have been through. In addition, I asked a KEY question: How did these women actually become widows? The answer to this is not exhaustive but includes: War, terrorism and military service, poverty, accidents, poor health, old age, HIV/Aids, Illness, and social and economic conflicts. We therefore need to ask ourselves – is there justification in our country for widows to be stigmatized the way they currently are?

I would like to thank the Minister of Women’s affairs for the you have done  for the widows to date,  but a LOT more still needs to be done to focus on widows in our Nation. We would like to beseech you to kindly use your good office and power to ensure this message gets to those who need to hear it so that this plight will be given more emphasis in the corridors of power. We pray that this event is a springboard for further collaboration in the future to ensure we get the attention of both the Government and public alike.

This leaves me to thank you all for gracing this occasion, the good Lord that we serve will never leave you nor forsake you – We pray for God’s continued favor and protection over all your lives in Jesus mighty name.

LESSONS LEARNT

  1. The burden of caring for widows and orphans cannot be borne solely by government, there is a serious need for all of us as members of the society to contribute our quota towards comforting and empowering the widows in the land.
  2. Being a widow is not by choice, hence, there is no basis for the stigmatization being suffered by the widows.
  3. All hands must be on deck and necessary laws must be enacted towards ameliorating the plight of the widows.

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