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Cameroon Widows Protest Government Neglect, Plead for Assistance

YAOUNDE, CAMEROON — VOA | In Cameroon, hundreds of women made widows by the country’s separatist conflict are protesting what they call the government’s lack of support. The widows say they have been left vulnerable to violence and abuse in the conflict, which has claimed more than 6,000 lives, and they are struggling to support their families.

The song “Veuve” in the French language, which translates to widow in English, by Cameroonian singer Giselle Otabela, blasts through speakers at a courtyard in the Yaounde 3rd district council in Cameroon’s capital.

Otabela sings that conflicts are increasing the number of poor and desperate widows in Cameroon.

The Cameroon Anglophone Crisis Widows Association says it organized a 1-kilometer peace walk to protest the Cameroon government’s neglect of widows.

Thirty-six-year-old Asu Ebangha is the president of the Widows Association and says several hundred widows agreed to come out and make their voices and grievances heard on International Widows Day on June 23.

“I am a widow, and I champion the course for widows. The widows are so poor, they are maltreated, they cannot take care of their children and it is a whole lot of trauma,” said Ebangha. “You will not be happy to see your children moving around from door to door, begging for food, begging for clothes. They can’t go to school and all of this.”

Ebangha said she lost her husband in 2019 during violent clashes between Cameroon government troops and separatist fighters in Menji, an English-speaking southwestern town. She says she escaped to Yaounde with her three children and was homeless for six months before the Catholic Women Association gave her a room for lodging.

Ebangha said several hundred displaced widows are homeless and hungry.

Since 2017 Cameroon’s military has been battling separatists fighting to carve out an independent, English-speaking state from Cameroon and its French-speaking majority.

The International Crisis Group estimates that six years of fighting has killed about 6,000 people and displaced more than 750,000.

Cameroon also is facing Boko Haram attacks that began in Nigeria’s Borno state in 2009 before spreading to neighboring countries, including Cameroon, Chad, and Niger.

The United Nations says the Islamist insurgency has left more than 36,000 people dead, mainly in Nigeria, and displaced 3 million.

The Global Fund for Widows, or GFW, says that because of the crises, several thousand of Cameroon’s estimated 800,000 widows are at an increased risk of violence, discrimination, ill health and rights abuses.

Marie Therese Abena Ondoua is Cameroon’s minister of Women’s Empowerment and the Family. She says the government is assisting widows but state resources are limited.

“We should really do everything to improve their well-being. After the husband’s departure [death], she should not suffer,” said Ondoua. “When you have rampant poverty, things are even worse, but the widows should know that when they ask for help, our services do their best to give assistance to those widows, and we work with the civil society because the government cannot do it all [alone].”

Ondoua says civilians should stop disinheritance, discrimination and other .harmful
traditional practices targeting widows. He said harmful widowhood rites, including forcing women to sleep with the corpses of their late husbands and to drink water used in bathing the bodies as a sign they did not kill their spouses, should be stopped.

The GFW says the average Cameroonian widow registered with its local partner has three children, with some having as many as 12. The GWF says widows are in unthinkable situations because they face extreme poverty, starvation and a lack humanitarian aid.