Thursday, March 31, 2011
Burdened for the Widows of Burkina
Saturday morning we spent some extended time with a local church’s widow’s group. I was greatly moved upon hearing some of their stories.
When a woman in Burkina loses her husband (which sadly is not all that rare) she not only has the tragedy & grief to deal with but also faces many additional challenges from her community.
Regardless of how she is widowed (Malaria, HIV, car accident or appendicitis like my dear friend Sarah’s husband) the wife is blamed for the husband’s death. They believe that if a woman’s husband dies suddenly then SURELY she has put a curse on him & killed him. He could have died while serving in another country with the military, but she is still responsible. Thus begins the social alienation from her community.
In Burkina (and other West African countries) a woman is considered property… property of her husband. When her husband dies his family inherits all of his property, wife included. Most families are quick to descend on new widows (who most assuredly have conspired & killed said husbands) and pillage their homes & belongings. They then decide if a brother, uncle, or other relative then inherits the woman, as well. Without her own consent, she can lose her husband & be remarried to a virtual stranger within hours.
Sometimes being remarried like this is actually a best-case scenario because then the woman can keep her children. Even her children are now her husband’s family’s property, and if they DON’T marry her off to another member of the family she may never see them again.
Sadly, many of the Christian widows are remarried to Muslim men & severely persecuted for their faith. Many are beaten, and all of them work non-stop to tend to the households. Add to that the fact that most households here are Polygamist, and that adds a whole additional dynamic of stress as a woman enters a new, established home.
Regardless of where they land, they are considered cursed women and outcast from their own community. No one associates with a widow. In fact, children of widows also suffer- they often can’t find a suitable spouse to marry as they are also branded as “cursed” and no family would marry their son to a daughter of a widow- surely she would kill her husband, as well!
It is just tragic & heartbreaking to see these otherwise loving, social & loyal people (Burkina means “the Land of Integrity”) turn their backs on those in need & even kick them when they’re down. It is the opposite of what we believe & aim to practice as Christ-followers…
“Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor.” Zechhariah 7:10
“Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need.” 1Timothy 5:3
“Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless.” Exodus 22:22
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure & faultless is this: to look after orphans & widows in their distress & to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27
“The Lord watches over the foreigner & sustains the fatherless & the widow…”Psalm 146:9