04 Feb The Widow’s world: Very Rough Terrain
Widowhood is a life transforming period for a woman. It is a period that marks a remarkable shift in a woman’s social, financial and psychological outlook. The widow faces many odds once she is confronted with the death of her husband. Immediately the husband dies, the long dark path of hopelessness commences. It does not matter what the cause of the death is; natural causes, sickness, accident, suicide, murder, and so on, whatever the cause, the widow is usually to blame. Widows are at times accused of being instrumental in their husband’s death. They are either accused of neglecting them, driving them to whatever circumstances that may have led to their deaths. In some cases the in-laws get into full action in salvaging whatever material property their son, uncle, nephew may have left. This is done during the mourning period when those concerned, the wife and the children are still emotionally disturbed. Accusations follow immediately, of how the widow was conducting herself during the mourning period. The widow therefore has to adapt immediately to cope with criticism and the social cultural stigma attached to widowhood. Cases of violence meted on widows are everywhere, characterized by disturbing burial disputes, widow invasion by in-laws, property grabbing, other women who suddenly pop up to declare that they are legal wives of the deceased among others. All these occur instantly after the husband dies, sometimes even before the burial.
In Kenya and most of African societies, patriarchal values embedded in gender relations have an impact on women living without their long term partner. Most widows have had to painfully endure discrimination and abuse by their communities and in-laws backed by patriarchal customs and traditions. The impacts extend to the children, in many ways; psychological, spiritual, economic and social. The situation is often complicated where the deceased husband was the sole bread winner to the family with no other social support. Above all, the widow faces the likelihood of bringing up her children without any material support. She would need a male to provide fatherly advice and emotional support to her and her children. In the present age with its highly expensive life expectations, this is not possible. One widow was quoted as saying “who would marry me with these children, not with all their demands especially school fees.”
Other than emotional and physical problems, a widow may be undergoing stress due to lack of acquaintances. The society tends to forget a widow and her children after the funeral. Former family friends treat her with mixed feelings, men acquaintances want to exploit her sexually and materially, other women suspect her, in-laws abandon her, single women get amused, etc. All these create internal conflicts within the widow.