One local woman Pednah Mogomotsi has stepped into a void – caring for widows in a rare offer of love for the mostly ignored and suffering lot. KEITEBE KGOSIKEBATHO reports
Women are classified as a marginalised group together with children and other vulnerable persons. Unlike their male counterparts they are often side-lined in societies they live in. Despite laws and policies designed to address the situation, women continue to carry the badge of a somehow lesser specie. Throwing a blanket statement when referring to this marginalised group would be somehow a bit overrated, as situations differ. Problems of a single mother who is working are for example different from those of married mother who is also unemployed. The same goes to a woman who is married and living with their spouse to another who has just lost her husband.
One local woman Pednah Mogomotsi had what she refers to as ‘an intervention from God’ to start a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) to cater for and address the needs of widows. The NGO’s main aim is to provide care and support, economic empowerment both locally and internationally through advocacy and education for all widows, widowers and their families. Peddy’s Widows’ Forum opened its doors to widows in need of a shoulder to cry on around the same time and has so far assisted scores of women who had not only lost their husbands but were facing various life challenges which included harassment from inconsiderate in laws. According to Mogomotsi, local widows – as it is in many other African countries – are often helplessly left to fight battles with greedy in-laws mostly for the deceased’s estate. What is disheartening, she says, is the fact that local laws do not provide water tight protection for widows’ rights. “Customary laws are not helping much either,” she says.
As it is Peddy’s Widows’ Forum has joined a fray of other women rights groups to persuade government into signing the SADC Gender Protocol. Their aim, she says, is to see a world that has just laws, policies and programmes for widows, widowers and their families. The Protocol for example requires that Member States enact and enforce legislation to ensure among others that widows are not subjected to inhuman, humiliating or degrading treatment and to ensure that a widow shall have the right to an equitable share in the inheritance of the property of the husband.
This, according to Mogomotsi, is the exact approach and commitment they expect from government in dealing with local widows. In the meantime however, Mogomotsi explains that her organisation assist widows and their families with counselling, funding and estate benefits logistics especially when dealing with stuff like insurance policy benefits.
“Because after losing their husbands, these women are mostly broken and vulnerable, sometimes support is all they need to get back on their feet and fend for their children,” she says. Though their target is widows, she explains that they have so far assisted a number of widowers whom they felt deserved the same treatment as their female counterparts. “Societal expectations often force men to refrain from mourning their partners openly and this usually has a negative impact on them,” says Mogomotsi. Mogomotsi, whose charity work is influenced by her strong Christian background, explains that even the form of counselling they offer to their clients is based and influenced by Christian teachings and the word Of God.
Their offices are currently in Gaborone, but plans to go nationwide are underway. In line with reaching out to widows outside Botswana, the organisation has an office in Malawi where they have so far mobilised groups of widows and are assisting them with small start-up loans for small businesses.