It is usually traumatic when a woman loses her husband. In certain ethnic groups in Nigeria, the plight that befalls widowed women is usually a tale of woe, from the psychological and financial challenges to the burden of raising their children alone. There are also cultural demands of widowhood that vary with varying cultural norms and practices. As succinctly highlighted by a 2011 UN resolution, widows are constantly faced with a myriad of economic, social and cultural factors, including lack of access to inheritance, land tenure, employment and/or livelihood, social safety nets, health care, and education. According to a 2015 World Widows Report, a widow’s plight is both a moral and economic issue as well as societal. It is moral in the sense that it offends fundamental standards of human rights, but also an economic and societal one, because it sets in a cycle of deprivation that can last generations, perpetuating poverty and threatening social stability.

In Nigeria, official statistics are not readily available to quantify the number of widows, but World Widows Report puts the global figure at 258million, with 38million of them living ‘in extreme poverty where basic needs are unmet.’ Without a full picture of the number of widows as well as their deprivations, and causes of such deprivations, it will be impossible to establish a safety net or put a structure in place for their social protection. Commemoration of International Days is gradually becoming a powerful advocacy tool as it offers many actors, civil society organizations, public and private sectors, and well-meaning individuals an opportunity to create activities around the theme of the year. One of such days is the International Widows Day commemorated on June 23 every year to highlight the problems of widows and encourage people to help widows in their struggles against the challenges of life.

This year’s theme is Invisible Women, Invisible Problems, ostensibly to draw attention to the deprivations suffered by widows and galvanize a broader stakeholder involvement towards setting up social and economic structures, laws, conventions and policies aimed at ameliorating the plight of widows who have historically (but sadly) been left unseen, unsupported, and unmeasured.

Among other things, the UN resolution that established the day aptly captured why it is important to set a day aside to celebrate widows, citing that ‘the economic empowerment of women, including widows, is a critical factor in the eradication of poverty,’ and ‘that all aspects of the lives of widowed women and their children are, in many parts of the world, negatively affected by various economic, social and cultural factors, including lack of access to inheritance, land tenure, employment and/or livelihood, social safety nets, health care and education.’

As an organization, Diamond Development Initiatives, with support from its funders and other partners has taken seriously the plight of widows, especially in terms of their economic empowerment, as a critical factor in poverty eradication. For instance, in 2015, the USADF awarded a grant of N20,840,480 to Makarfi Widows Groundnut Processing Cooperative Society – a small-scale, low-income agricultural producer group formed by poor, widowed groundnut farmers residing in and around Makarfi LGA, Kaduna State. With the technical support and mentorship of Diamond Development Initiatives, the group was supported to improve their groundnut production and processing enterprise which contributed to improving the levels of income and standards of living of its members and improving economic activities in the host community.

While, as admitted by the United Nations, the COVID-19 pandemic has both ‘increased the number of widows globally and exacerbated many of the challenges they face,’ many widows across Nigeria who belonged to farmers/producer groups, cooperatives as well as women entrepreneurs and those widowed by the insurgency in the North-East were also supported with a COVID-19 special intervention by the USADF through its Capital for African Resilience-building and Enterprises Support (C.A.R.E.S) program. As the Implementing Partner of USADF in Nigeria, DDI supported the implementation of this special COVID-19 intervention that provided immediate relief and capital assistance, and resilience building for 63 entities – including widows.

As we commemorate this year’s Widows; Day, DDI aligns with the UN’s Call to Action to “commit to making sure all widows occupy a respected place in our societies, with access to legal and social protection, so they can live their lives in peace and reach their full potential.” DDI is reinstating its commitment to the economic empowerment of women, including widows, which has been identified as a critical factor in poverty eradication. Happy International Widows Day 2021.