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

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

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.

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

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.

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

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

Nneka Chris-Asoluka – Programme
Action Chairwoman Nigeria




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