While at her career, she has found a special need to reach out to underprivileged widows and children in the society, hence she birthed the Chinwe Bode-Akinwande (CBA) Foundation, an NGO ensuring that women who are disadvantaged, not empowered, hopeless but have expressed the willingness, power, passion and desire to be resourceful, get the necessary support. She speaks with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA in this interview on her concerns for widows, the culture sting among other concerns.
At what point did you decide that was a vision you wanted to pursue? I started the Foundation in 2014.
Growing up, I was grateful for having supportive parents and working at the UN as well and joining charities. It has always been a part of my life in one way or the other. I am not a victim of widowhood but I have friends that have been affected or hurt because of the injustices attached to widowhood. The best I could do was to voice their injustices and draw attention to the stigmas surrounding it. It was a deliberate effort to help, as there are under-privileged widows and privileged widows who do not have issues with their extended families.
Why are women vulnerable?
Honestly, it is just poverty. It is bad and comes with so many outputs. There is an overall children and women empowerment but there is a need for extensive protection. This is a result of them not having the opportunities to represent themselves freely and have been repressed. There was a case of when a woman who was oppressed by her husband’s family through battery both emotionally and physically, and due to this became a shell of her former self. If a woman is financially independent, there is an innate confidence that resonates from within. They need to be counselled and taught how to earn or do something gainful leading to women empowerment. Widows are increasing by the day, go to Ilado community, men are killing themselves over lands that their wives won’t inherit. Widows are not seen as part of the society and are treated as sub- standard products. We need to begin to encourage companies to run collaborations with the government to support widows, advocate due implementation of the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act and let women know that they have rights. No one is advocating the act that protects the widows. All the children of widows who have become dropouts will hunt the children of those who are schooled. 98 per cent of the widows I met have withdrawn their children from school due to lack of available funds. The widows are bitter because they do not have proper opportunities and resources available to them.
Do you think that people are getting enlightened about it?
I would think so. Talking about it is the start, as it would eventually lead to doing something about it. We have broken down the Foundation in order to cater to the different or various needs of the widows. As such we are able to attend to the different needs as one woman is now empowered to teach another person. Organisations are talking about it but they can sustain it by publishing reports and statistics in order to measure or calculate the progression or regression of the capacity building for the widows. To me I think it is happening but the challenge is that people who are talking about it should be able to back it up with testimonials.
What have been some of the success stories?
The successes have been enormous; many women are now business owners and are able to not just fend for their families, but have become employers of labour. Over 40 children who had lost hope in education are back to school through the payment of school fees as well as stationeries. Twenty-six underprivileged widows, through our medical intervention, recovered from stroke. One of the widows during our medical outreach this year at Okun-Ilado, Ibeju-Lekki, Lagos weighed 36kg as a result of malnutrition. Today, she is well and sound. About four underprivileged widows attempted suicide but after our counselling sessions they are doing well now and running their businesses. We have reached out to over 3,000 underprivileged widows and over 800 children during our International Widow’s Day outreaches since we started with food items, clothing, skill acquisition training, financial empowerment and medical care, too.
How do you determine areas for your outreach programmes?
I come from Anambra State but I am living in Lagos State. The first thing I did was to register my NGO in my residential state which is Lagos and opened up ourselves to scrutiny by the government and we go to Anambra to raise awareness for the outreach. We can do more if you have enough support, both monetary and emotionally. For every culture, they have a peculiar trait as to how their widows are treated. In the name of culture, nobody wants to challenge it, but I am embracing it wholeheartedly with my foundation.
Culture cuts across all tribes as such are a major factor and have helped in how the dead are buried but the issue of widows is peculiar across board. The widows have now seen themselves as outcasts, as they are treated much more differently from the rest. The point of death that culture takes pre-eminence is if you are doing well and marry multiple wives, you should then begin to set things in place for your children. Culture does not write a will, does not distribute properties, buy land and tell you who to buy the land in the name of and I keep telling people that it is time we stop hiding under the name of culture.
How does CBA Foundation identify widows in need?
Identifying the genuine ones especially in towns where people can lie to benefit themselves, and have redefined widowhood as when a husband is not around as much as they would like or is not performing, is a challenge. As such, we decided to work with churches and bodies who have done extensive detailing because we do not have the capacity to do that. In communities we work with the Baales. For example we went to the Ilado community and four other neighbouring communities to interact with the community leaders who have an updated list or directory of widows in the community. Once we are fine with the list, we run the programme at one of the chosen Baale’s palace to weed out the liars and fakes.
What has evolved in your career?
A lot has evolved and my profile has continued to grow. I do more in order to balance myself and that includes my nine to five job but evolving means separating time for holidays and vacations in order to give back to humanity, thereby leaving a legacy. Beyond the Foundation, it is mentoring people on what I know and joining a couple of mentorship programmes and I also have a couple of mentees that I supervise.
How do you manage all of these with family life?
Having a good support system is crucial. I have an awesome support system starting from my lovely husband, my kids and my family members. My place of work, co-workers and boss are also crucial to my support system. A good support system does most of the work for me.
What is your philosophy?
Be deliberate, be positive and never take a NO for an answer. This is in the Bible; so most importantly is the G-factor, which is God. Say no to bad energy and keep pushing!