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Jessica Isimokwenye Shares her journey to Widowhood and the plight of Women in Africa

Africa has quite a good number of women who have their rights violated. Research has revealed that these women are abused based on cultural traditionalism and modern gender-political ideology which in turn has ripple effects on women across the African continent to various degrees.

Jessica shares about her tragic journey to widowhood and all the obstacles that came her way as a woman in Nigeria, reflecting what thousands of women in Africa go through.

Many people in the west are unaware of gender inequality issues that exist on other continents. As someone from Africa, Jessica speaks of the major issues that face African women.

Hello Jessica, thank you for joining today’s interview. Could you please tell us about yourself?

I am a female in her early thirties from Delta State, Nigeria currently living in Minnesota, in the United States. I am a graduate of Clinical Microbiology and Epidemiology and I am passionate about bringing the plight of women across Africa to the forefront and inspiring meaningful change and awareness in my homeland and global community.

Jessica Isimokwenye

From your perspective, what do you think is the major problem facing women in Africa?

In Africa, there is extreme discrimination and a thick line between a Man and a Woman. In Nigeria, the significant challenges for African women and girls of young age can’t be over-emphasized. Especially concerning extremist groups who subjected me to the pain of widowhood. I was married to a military officer, and when he passed away, I already knew government secrets hence I become a threat to the community.

For instance, my husband was a military officer, to be precise, a colonel in the army. He served as a staff officer between field commands at the battalion.

We got married through a court wedding. I was pretty young back then. Our early moments in marriage were defined by love and absolute happiness.

He was made the military commander in the state during elections, while here, top politicians and government officials contacted him to ensure that there was no mischief during elections.

After the elections, he got more threats and this led to him developing cancer. He traveled widely for medical treatment but all was in vain because he died in the process. I received threats too and was never allowed to see her husband because he was heavily guarded by soldiers. I was also denied a chance to attend her husband’s burial.

I was given some land properties but it was confiscated forcefully from me. My legal attorney put up the land for sale. While they took the estate realtor to the land, I was frustrated and tortured by the community boys and the government.

Some even confronted and mocked me telling me that women do not go to war or fight for land. Despite being tortured by the female elders of the community and fed all manner of poisons, just to prove a point that she was mourning, my spirit to fight for what rightfully belonged to me was unstoppable.

The torture caused me mental health issues and afflicted pain on me and my immediate family. I stopped traveling anymore because of the torture and pains I was going through.

What are the obstacles that come the way of women in Africa?

The strongest obstacle facing widows in Africa is the gender socialization of Culture in the society. Culture has been and is still sending widows to their early graves. Nobody thinks of the child/children left behind. Nobody thinks of education for those left behind especially female offspring. Our forefathers went through the same gruesome culture.

Research has revealed that Nigeria is ranked a low score of 139 out of 156 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap index and even in the civil society groups. Injustice and marginalization of widows’ torture in Africa is a discriminatory law, not excluding religion and cultural norms. My mother was also a widow quite early and suffered the same injustices.

What could be the main cause of the high rate of widowhood in Africa?

Statistics already have a report signifying that 1 in 10 African women aged 15 years and older are widows. The cause of the high rate of widowhood is that African men spend more of their lives married than African women. With the ravages of HIV and conflicts, African men can remarry almost immediately after losing their spouse and it is the opposite for the widows. You are attacked for getting remarried and called all manner of names that signifies you are promiscuous.

In Nigeria, worse observable status for widows can be linked to inheritance practices and cultural attitudes and norms towards widows.

How should Africa start fighting for opportunities of African women?

Africa should make serious constitutional changes regarding widows and their rights. They should enforce a law to protect the widows and their children.

The next step is to create awareness of Endometriosis. The awareness is still weak in Nigeria. A lot of clinical trials are going on searching for better treatment for endometriosis. In Africa, some doctors do not know that endometriosis affects more than the linings of the uterus, but it also impacts virtually all organs of the body.

Jessica Isimokwenye - Endometriosis
Jessica is a survivor of Endometriosis, a disorder in which tissue that normally lines the uterus grows outside the uterus.

Endometriosis is one of the most sensitive topics I avoided in the past. In Africa, it portrays a different scenery. It is usually called a “painful menstrual period”, but it is much more than a painful menstrual period.

It is a disease of the whole body. It is a disease that cripples one gradually. In Africa, we lack the medical equipment to properly and efficiently diagnose women living with endometriosis.

Endometriosis causes severe life-impacting pain. It is forbidden to talk about endometriosis in Africa to any extent as it involves women’s periods. Greater awareness and laparoscopic diagnoses remain the goal.

What do you wish to achieve right now and in the future concerning the fight for women’s rights?

For now, I wish to have fundraisings, awareness, and other campaigns that assist women undergoing laparoscopic surgery in the diagnosis of Endometriosis. I would equally want to support Endometriosis survival groups in Lagos and Nigeria and raise funds to help women go for excision surgery for endometriosis. It reduces the frequency of surgeries.

In the future, I would also love to set up a fertility hospital to assist women suffering from endometriosis to become fertile, either by IVF or other fertility routes. I have personally recorded 24 surgeries regarding endometriosis treatment. It doesn’t have a cure, but we can achieve a better quality of life for women everywhere.