THE CREATION OF WIDCO
Introduction: The Story behind the creation of WIDCO – A Personal Story.
In January 1970, the father of the creator of WIDCO died. The initiator was a young boy, almost six-years of age. His mother was 22. She had been married a little over six years.
The young boy’s father was from one of the richest families in the village in Cameroon. After his death, the young mother was stripped by the women in the village, and all her hair was shaved from her body – her head, her armpits, her pubic hair, her eyebrows. She was left to lie on a bare floor for seven days without being able to bathe or change the very clothes she had worn on the day her husband died. Her young son, the initiator, witnessed all this. He did not know this was custom.
The young widow’s brothers-in-law held a family meeting where it was decided that she would remarry the eldest son of the family, the initiators’ uncle. All of his father’s assets now were under control of this new husband. The widow and her new husband had more children. Children from the first marriage were basically “orphaned” and had no rights to any of their father’s property or assets.
Only the first son, the initiator, was fortunate enough to go onto further education, as one of his cousins, who had been brought up by the deceased like a son, adopted him. This young first son grew up with a deep anger toward his uncles and the women who had stripped his mother – all those who had plundered his father’s assets and had humiliated his mother by shaving her hair, leaving her naked in public and emotionally torturing her.
In 1985, the initiator, now a young, educated, and independent adult, had the occasion to revisit his village while attending two funerals – one for a woman and one for a man. The young man saw that the widow was treated the same way as his mother: stripped and shaved. On the other hand, the widower was not undressed, not shaved and not made to lie on the ground for a week. This prompted the young man to research traditional practice and culture of his village and how men were treated entirely differently from the women. The young man realized that the treatment of his mother was common practice for widows and that widowers do not have to face the same consequences. His lived experience and his studies moved him to push for revisions of these archaic, traditional habits, for the benefit of women and thus the whole culture.
In 1990, the initiator, who had become a public advocate for reform, was elected first vice mayor of his municipal council. The political climate was changing. In the process of exploring the disparities of women’s treatment in the Cameroon society versus that of men’s, the initiator found the following:
- All women have a common problem – ignorance and poverty;
- The adversities against women are more of cultural than a gender issue as even women are implicated in meting out organized torturous treatments against other women.
- Poverty was a serious contributor to the inability of women to participate in the development of the society and the family;
- In most places, women were not permitted to buy or own property;
- Women were obliged to talk to some men while on their knees or with their heads bowed down;
- Women were not allowed to interact with men in some traditional and cultural milieus, and that men who interacted with their wives in such milieus were looked upon spitefully by their peers as what they often called “woman wrapper.” [another translation?]
- Elite women who attempted to change the situation organized women groups in which the propaganda for change was anti-male, thereby pushing men into an unfriendly and aggressive position against the anticipated change of habits towards the empowerment of women.
- There was no political party in Cameroon who had any policy towards the empowerment of women, as an inseparable part of our society.
- All policies by political parties were propaganda instruments for manipulation rather than espousing any realistic implementation of new policies for women.
In August 1993, desperately wanting to change treatment toward women – first and foremost, to avoid any woman suffering as his mother had – the initiator formally launched a new approach to change the adverse traditional practices of the culture toward women. The initiator observed that the combination of bad governance, adherence to ancient traditions, and, most significantly, poverty contributed to the archaic and detrimental treatment of women. He created WIDCO, a new concept concerning women empowerment.
Interestingly, ironically, the initiator, a male, noted that some of the most physically and psychologically tortuous acts against women are committed by other women.