Ghana: What Widows Face in the Name of Culture
After the funeral, Ayi was asked to choose a husband from the family, as custom demanded that she should continue delivering children for her dead husband. Since the husband’s only full brother was not present, she chose a relative. She gave birth to another child with this man, her fourth child. She supported herself and her children by weaving baskets. She was fortunate to be among a group of young widows selected to be retrained to weave modern baskets to meet the current market. These baskets are made using less straw but are exported at better prices.
While Ayi was getting settled into her new situation, her late husband’s brother who had migrated to the south, came home. He was not happy that she had chosen a distant relative to marry instead of him. He asked Ayi to leave her new husband and to marry him because he was the closest relative of her first husband and was therefore more entitled to marry her. Ayi was very unhappy with this situation because she had already given birth to a child with her new husband.
She ran to her father’s house for help, but he commanded her to go back home, leave the father of her fourth child and marry the brother who had the authority to demand back the dowry paid to her father. To prevent the disgrace of her father, who could not get the cows to pay back, Ayi returned home and married the brother of her late husband.
Ayi had a fifth child but later this new husband man decided to marry another woman. He began to persecute her. Ayi was labelled a witch and the man was warned not to touch his new wife because Ayi had performed witchcraft on his brother and killed him. Ayi was relieved when the couple decided to migrate to the South again.
Unfortunately, after six months, the husband came back with his wife who was ill. Ayi was accused as being the cause of the wife’s illness and when she died, was denounced as having killed her. Ayi cannot count the number of beatings she went through, or the number of insults she endured while being called a murderer.
Ayi reported the situation to the Widows and Orphans Ministry when she could no longer stand the pain. The day she came and reported this story, she asked; “please come and deliver me because any time I leave the house, I am happy but when I am entering the house my heart beats faster and faster and I suffer from palpitations.” After mediation by officials, AYI was advised to move to her father’s house with her five children to ensure their peace and security.
Today, Ayi and her five children have been living in her father’s house for three years. She is weaving baskets and depends on the revenue from this to support her family. None of her five children are in school because the profit she makes from her baskets is not enough. They live a hand to mouth existence. However, for Ayi it is better to stay in her father’s house with her children than to stay in her late husband’s house where she could have lost her life by now.
The custom in this area of Ghana demands that a widow must choose someone from her late husband’s family to continue delivering children for the dead man. All of the five children bear his name. Even though the last two children have different biological fathers who are alive and well, they cannot claim the children and the children cannot use their names because they are not the father of those children according to custom. The fate of these children rests on their mother, and her story emphasises the need to empower women economically so that they can support themselves and their children.
Source: Widow's Rights International (http://www.widowsrights.org/womghana_culture.html) and the Widows' Rights International Sister Organization in GHANA - Widows & Orphans Ministry, via WUNRN