Campaign Against Harmful Widow Practices


This week's SoroptiVoice blog comes from Nneka Chris-Asoluka - Programme Action Chairwoman of Nigeria. Nneka describes the work Soroptimist clubs in Nigeria do in order to eradicate degrading and harmful practices imposed upon widows.


Soroptimist  International of Nigeria Association has consistently condemned the wicked, malicious and injurious customary and traditional practices meted out to widows. These acts constitute violence against women and girls which remain the most acute form of gender inequality in Nigeria thus the need for special protection of the feminine gender cannot be over-emphasized. Under the law, lies a rational belief that every human being is entitled to equal consideration and respect. In Nigeria, there have been several cases of violence against women and girls, which most times are unreported despite their pervasiveness.

A typical Nigerian widow is by tradition expected to undergo certain mourning rites and widowhood practice, which invariably constitute elements of deprivation to her.  This situation thus makes widowhood a pathetic situation, and widows being highly deprived people are lost in the ocean of life without a clear picture of what the future holds for them.

In certain parts of Nigeria, the maltreatment of widows is common. In-laws and the community subject them to physical and emotional abuses such as being made to sit on the floor; being confined from a month to one year; having their hair literally scraped off with razors or broken bottles; not being allowed to bathe; being made to routinely weep in public; being forced to drink the water used to wash their husband’s corpse; crowned by the loss of inheritance rights and eviction. Widowhood rites often make women to be dethroned, defaced, disentangled, defiled, denied, deprived, dispossessed and disinherited.

Soroptimist International of Nigeria Association (SINA) in collaboration with some other NGO’S in Nigeria have over the years been at the fore-front of the campaign and advocacy against these harmful practices. The enormous discrimination and humiliating treatments that widows frequently encounter, in varying degrees of hardships, is a threat to the rights of women (widows) as recognized in international human rights conventions and treaties and in national legislation as well. Specifically widows are not adequately protected against harmful widowhood practices and have not been given the attention they deserve, as is the case across Nigeria. SINA has held series of workshops, seminars and road-shows tasking and encouraging the Nigerian lawmakers at all levels to legislate against all oppressive and injurious laws standing against widows in the country. This call was reiterated by SINA on the 23rd of June while marking an event to commemorate the International Widows Day. The SINA President Mrs Funlola Buraimoh-Ademoyewo in her speech had this to say `I wish to encourage that all Nigerians individually and collectively spare a thought for Nigerian widows to bring about an improvement in the well being of Nigerian widows and their children. Specifically, I would like to call on Nigerian lawmakers at the federal and state levels to legislate against all oppressive, injurious and degrading widowhood practices as well as other harmful traditional practices that continue to place women at the lower rung of social and economic ladder. In addition, relevant public and private institutions should endeavour to provide functional basic education to the citizens to adequately prepare them for meeting the challenges of bereavement. She went on to say that “there should be appropriate collaboration among the relevant stakeholders to institutionalise interventions to widows as a way of fostering widows’ integration into the society and that with the commitment of all stakeholders, the future of widows in the country would be better”.

Consequent upon these campaigns, SINA recommends among other things that:

1.                Nigeria lawmakers should legislate against all oppressive, injurious and degrading widowhood practices.

2.                Government at the three tiers should endeavour to provide functional basic education to the citizens to adequately prepare them for meeting the challenges of bereavement.

3.                Government should establish a national commission for widow affairs as a way of fostering widows’ integration into the society.

4.                Younger widows i.e. those bereaved before the age of 35 years should be encouraged to remarry as a way of integrating them properly into the main stream of affairs in a socially-inclined society like Nigeria.

5.                Counsellors in training should be made to take bereavement and widowhood counselling in their training programme as a way of adequately fortifying them to provide the necessary integrative counselling to the marginalized groups in the society like the widows.

However our cries and advocacy has begun to bear fruits with the recent laudable act of a Governor of a state in Nigeria, Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State of Nigeria having recently signed into law a bill passed by the state House of Assembly banning the cultural and traditional practice whereby widows are made to drink the bath water of their dead husbands, have their hair shaved and their deceased husband’s property seized. The law now makes such acts a crime punishable with 3 years imprisonment without an option of a fine. Therefore the perpetrators of such wicked and malicious acts now face imprisonment.

Further to this, the Federal minister for Women Affairs representing the Federal Government of Nigeria on the 24th of June 2013 while commemorating the International Widows day, called on law makers to make better laws to protect widows.

Recently also the wife of the Lagos State of Nigeria Governor Mrs Abimbola Fashola has called on all stakeholders to rise to the challenge of seeing that all injurious and wicked practices meted out to widows be abolished.  Hear her” Every man of good conscience and honour must rise and speak out against the ills of these acts. We must be a part of the street rallies and speak out alongside the women organizations that are involved in denouncing this terrible act.”

It’s not yet ‘Uhuru’ but there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Nneka Chris-Asoluka - Programme Action Chairwoman Nigeria

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