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All-formats AP team reports on COVID-19 widows in Africa facing hardship, abuse, stigma

Roseline Ujah, 49, sits on her bed in Umuida, Nigeria, Feb. 11, 2022. Doctors at a local hospital suspect her husband Godwin died of COVID-19, but there were no tests available locally to confirm their diagnosis. Many widows in Africa say the pandemic has taken more than their husbands: In their widowhood, it’s cost them their extended families, their homes and their futures. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

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West Africa Bureau Chief Krista Larson had seen on previous reporting assignments how women in the region often face abuse upon being widowed. So when statistics showed how many more men were dying of COVID-19 than women, she set out to report on the treatment of these widows.

She started by looking at the countries in Africa where laws provide little if any protection to women regarding inheritance rights, and where statistics on COVID and gender were available. But on a continent where few are even willing to publicly acknowledge their loved ones died of the virus, the process of finding women who would agree to be interviewed proved extremely challenging.

The first country chosen was Nigeria, where long before the pandemic, widows had often been forced from their homes or land upon their husbands’ deaths. Nigeria correspondent Chinedu Asadu worked to identify several women who were willing to talk about widowhood despite cultural taboos about speaking of inheritance disputes or other mistreatment for fear of further shaming or retribution from their in-laws. Asadu and Larson then reported from southeastern Nigeria with chief Africa photographer Jerome Delay and Nigeria video journalist Lekan Oyekanmi.

In Guinea, freelance journalist Boubacar Diallo obtained a list of confirmed COVID deaths from a hospital worker and contacted dozens of women, nearly all of whom refused to be interviewed. When one woman made a passing reference to her late husband’s other wives, Larson persuaded her son to share contact details of the other wives; a younger co-wife ultimately granted them an interview.

Delay and Larson also traveled to Congo,where they were joined by freelance journalists Moses Sawasawa for photos and Justin Kabumba for video, who helped locate a fourth woman profiled in the piece.

The resulting all-formats package,part of a yearlong series on how the pandemic is impacting African women,revealed how extensive the practice of widow abuse is in Africa regardless of religion or economic class.

For determined,insightful reporting that highlights a previously unseen aspect of the pandemic’s unequal impact on women,the team of Larson,Asadu,Diallo,Delay,Sawasawa, Oyekanmi and Kabumba earns AP’s Best of the Week — Second Winner honors.

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