Background

In the Upper East Region of Ghana alone, the Widows and Orphans Movement (WOM) has a over seven thousand widows comprising 85 independent groups. At the local level, groups are managed by Group Executives while at the level of WOM, three staff members act essentially as facilitators while managing the administration of WOM projects. Membership is open to widows from all communities and religions.

Widows and their children represent one of the most vulnerable and overlooked groups in Ghanaian society. While many organizations are committed to addressing the needs of women in general, no other organization tackles the unique and overwhelming struggles facing the widow in Northern Ghana. Due to their social ostracism by both men and women, natal and marital family, the widows are especially vulnerable in society. Widows are often left with no social or financial networks, and are forced into activities that put them at higher risk for HIV/AIDS infection. Many of the  widows WOM supports are already infected with HIV/AIDS (through their deceased husbands), and are even further ostracized from the community - making their struggle with HIV/AIDS doubly difficult.

As the only organization developed by and for widows in Northern Ghana, WOM is the most effective organization to address the issues of empowerment and capacity building of widows in Northern Ghana. WOM believes in empowering widows and their children, to make positive choices; providing viable and sustainable livelihoods; and providing direct and effective HIV/AIDS education will result in both fewer widows and their children being infected with HIV/AIDS and those widows struggling with infection to have improved lives.

Most of the widows in the Upper East Region of Ghana are very young due to early marriages. The result of this is multiple deprivations on the part of the children of these widows, hence forcing the widows into worst areas of informal sector work such as domestic service, begging or prostitution in order to survive. It is estimated that 60% of the females who migrate out of the region are widows. Some orphans who should have been in school migrate with their mothers to bigger towns such as Tamale, Kumasi, and Accra in search of domestic employment, and when they fail, they turn out to be street children.


The Plight of Widows in Northern Ghana

Traditionally, after the death of the man who is usually the bread winner, widows may be forced to submit to a traditional custom called wife inheritance. This allows the families of the deceased to choose a brother or relative of the late husband to marry the widow. This practice does not allow the widow to make her own decision to either remain unmarried or marry a man of her choice. If the widow manages to remain unmarried after the death of her husband, she will undoubtedly face maltreatment and rejection by her husband's family and community and is usually accused of witchcraft, having bad luck, or having a hand in her husband's death.

If a widow resists the practice of wife inheritance, she will not be permitted to inherit any property belonging to her husband and will be left in an even more vulnerable social and economic state. While there are laws in place to ensure a widow and her children inherit property, many women do not know their rights or are afraid to demand them. Due to both their financial and social vulnerability, widows may also be forced into or lured into prostitution, leaving them more easily exposed to HIV infection and other STDs. AIDS Africa - continent in Crisis (Helen Jackson, 2002, published by SAfAIDS) identifies widowhood as a primary risk factor for HIV/AIDS  infection in Africa and advocates, "promoting the rights of widows and orphans around inheritance" as a means to decrease HIV/AIDS infection among women (Pg.94).

It is our belief that through the strengthening of our administration and staff, we will be able to further serve the widows of northern Ghana.

Aman Mangat, CUSO Volunteer, 2003 - 2005

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