Activists seek assistance for widows in Jordan
AMMAN - Rana, 24, lost her husband to cancer five years ago, joining the ranks of Jordanian widows, many of whom are illiterate and live in poverty.
“I did not finish my high school studies and was married to a good man who worked as a guard. When he was diagnosed with cancer, life started to take another turn,” said Rana, who asked to be identified only by her first name.
“Today, I am facing the world alone with my children. It is not an easy job but thank God I have some sewing skills that I learned a long time ago and use to make a living.”
Unlike Rana, approximately half of Jordan’s 172,688 widows, including 6,178 younger than 30, did not receive any education and have no real skills.
Globally, International Widows Day, which takes place annually on June 23, is a UN day of action to address the “poverty and injustice” faced by millions of widows and their dependents.
“I never thought that there is a day for us. Life does change when you become a widow and, despite the sympathy people show you, still you need to depend on yourself and raise the children,” said Rana, the mother of five.
Rana is among Jordanian women whose life was disrupted with the death of their husband. In many cases they are left with nothing to secure their future and that of their children and sometimes they must deal with debts.
“At night, when I have some time, I start studying to learn more and maybe get a degree. It is a long shot but still worth trying. My children come first and providing them with a good education is a priority,” Rana said.
Jordanian NGOs are lobbying to introduce laws protecting widows and establish official programmes to alleviate illiteracy and poverty.
Lawyer Lina Tawil said there should be more programmes to assist women in general and widows and divorced women in particular because many lack skills and knowledge of their rights.
“Women face many kinds of violence and those who are illiterate, forced to marry at a very young age or to have many children will usually face a harsh future when their husbands die. Education can play a big role in securing their future and the future of their children,” Tawil said.
The Sisterhood Is Global Institute, which seeks to empower women and enhance their participation in different spheres, says approximately 42.7% of widows, divorced and separated women had been victims of emotional violence, 42.3% faced physical violence and 13.6% were sexually abused by their husbands.
“The government, international aid agencies and others do have programmes to assist widows but it is not enough. I believe that the private sector should be more involved in securing opportunities for them,” Tawil said.
Amal Abu Hatab, director of Al Amal Society for Social Development, which works closely with widows, framed Middle Eastern women in three categories.
“The first includes those who can break barriers to reach their goals. The second and most common type are mothers and housewives depending on their husbands. Then there is the type who is weak with many social and financial issues who need assistance and should be shouldered by the society,” Abu Hatab said.
“We provide several training courses covering cooking, sewing, handcraft and art to widows to help them develop their skills and start depending on themselves to raise their families. We assisted some 240 families who were able to earn a living and find extra opportunities,” she added.
Al-Hanan Association for the Care of Widows and Orphans helps widows find job opportunities and provides funds to small projects. “The association was established in 2004 and has been assisting 325 widows across the country,” said association President Zahia Turk.
“We have established a special unit that focuses on teaching the widows basic skills, including sewing, embroidery, basic IT skills, ceramic art and chocolate making.”
Turk said: “Some women have the will and the skills and have already started creating products but they lacked the marketing knowhow, a matter where the association is trying to help.”
For Rana, life has been cruel in many ways with numerous uncertain paths that she needs to follow. However, there is one path she is confident she will not take.
“Despite pressure from my family and the society, I will not remarry,” she said.