Dr Vetty Agala, President, Medical Women’s Association of Nigeria (MWAN), Rivers State Chapter, has called on the Federal Government to prioritize health insurance for widows in its Post COVID-19 Recovery Plan.
Agala, who made the call in an interview with news reporters in Abuja, said the health need of the widows should be given utmost attention in the plan.
“Let us ensure that our COVID- 19 pandemic Recovery Plan prioritizes the unique needs of widows and supports inclusiveness, resilience, and equality for all.
“Honestly, women generally need to be prioritized, but even more so for widows; they need to be considered in programmes to acquire or build skills and empowered to set up Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs).
“Their children should be supported to return to school. Policies and laws prohibiting harmful widowhood practices should also be enforced.
“Some women deteriorate once they lose their spouses because of disinheritance by in-laws, even when they worked hard to support their husbands,’’ she said.
According to her, COVID-19 has presented a number of challenges to women, especially widows, as many of them were market women, and lockdown and closure of open markets had not helped at all; consequently, feeding themselves and their children is a problem now.
Agala called on the State government to initiate programmes and policies that would alleviate the suffering of the widows and support them to take care of the children.
“I don’t see much opportunities of the pandemic for them but the group of widows we reached out to have been praying daily for the nation, Rivers State, their families and children.
“They are praying every day from 9 a.m to noon. I guess it is because they are not doing much for now,’’ she said.
According to her, the children of widows often find themselves withdrawn from school and vulnerable to abuse, especially in the case of the girl child.
“We encourage the government to come up with programmes that support their children to achieve quality education, alleviate their sufferings and end violence against widows.
“They should also come up with programmes that will support widows, including action plans to accelerate the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
“MWAN advocates for the abolishment of all forms of harmful widowhood practices and calls for weaknesses in the judicial systems of many States that compromise how widows’ rights are defended to be addressed.
“The system needs to be addressed so that widows can turn to the justice system to seek reparations,’’ she said.
According to her, MWAN, Rivers State Chapter commits to collaborating with existing organizations that work with widows to empower and allow them access to education, work, healthcare, and lives free of violence and abuse.
“This will enable them to create a life for themselves and their children following the death of their husband.
“MWAN Rivers condemns all harmful widowhood practices such as subjecting women to life-threatening, degrading, or painful mourning practices and burial rites when their husbands die.
“The association speaks against forcing widows out of their homes, separating them from their children, denying them work and access to healthcare, or forcing them to marry another male relative of their husband.
“It frowns at labelling widows as being cursed or associated with the practice of witchcraft, which of course separates them from their community and makes them and their children outcasts.’’
She said the association recognized the need for more research and data into violence, discrimination and poverty suffered by widows to inform the development of policies and programmes to address the problem:
“MWAN Rivers urges governments to take action to uphold their commitments to ensure the rights of widows as enshrined in national and state laws to protect the rights of widow.’’
Amaka E. Nliam