In commemoration of 2020 International Widows Day, a non-governmental organization Initiative for Women and Girls Right Advancement (IWORGA) has called on relevant agencies, bodies and persons to put implement laws on curbing all forms of harmful widowhood rites and practices. The group made this appeal at a webinar which had participants from different walks of life who contributed to the discourse.
While highlighting some of the dehumanizing conditions widows in Nigeria are subjected to in Nigeria, Nkechi Obiagbaoso-Udegbunam the founder of IWOGRA in her opening address noted with dismay that the overall situation of widows despite laws has been overlooked over the years, “Women in Nigeria are faced with series of violence in the society, one of which is the violence faced by widows after the death of their husbands. Widows are subjected to all sorts of dehumanizing and degrading treatments that is not limited to having their hairs shaved, made to stay in isolation for a period of time, made to drink the water used in cleaning their late husbands’ decomposed body, inherited by any of their late husbands’ brothers as if they were a property subject to being transferred and denied property and inheritance right.” Speaking further in her address, she maintained that there is urgent need for a broad set of strategies that will ensure the full realization and recognition of widows’ right in Nigeria as there is disconnect between laws put in place and praticies across the nation.
Health Financing and Advocacy Specialist with Save the Children International Folake Kuti during one of the sessions said widowhood practices in western Nigeria are dehumanizing. According to Kuti women as a result of the death of their spouse go through lots of trauma and agony yet they are still subjected to harsh rites which often have adverse effects on their health and emotional wellbeing. “The laws protecting widows in Nigeria are not well publicized, therefore the knowledge of the law is in the decline most especially in communities. She added that laws prohibiting widowhood practices have been passed both at the state and federal level. These laws were enacted to protect widows. The Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act prohibits widowhood practices and makes it an offence to subject any woman to such practices,” Kuti added.
Participants and panelists at the online meeting concluded that there is need to bring to fore what women are going through in the name of traditional practices that de-dignify women hence government should take drastic actions so widows will no longer be subjected to the barbaric act. Also they call for mobilization of communities, traditional rulers, community leaders, religious leader and others to sensntize them on the negative effects of harmful widowhood practices. They further encouraged men to write their will in order to prevent their wivies and daughters from being denied their inheritance rights upon their demise.
International Widows Day is a global awareness day that takes place annually on 23rd June. The day was launched by the United Nations in 2010 to raise awareness of the violation of human rights that widows suffer in many countries following the death of their spouses.
In many countries with traditional societies, women find themselves left in poverty when their husband dies. In some countries, these women find themselves denied of inheritance and land rights, evicted from their homes, ostracised and abused. The children of widows also often find themselves affected, withdrawn from school and more vulnerable to abuse, especially in the case of girls. International Widows Day works to encourage action in achieving full rights for widows, highlighting the need for more research and statistics into violence, discrimination and poverty suffered by widows and develop policies and programmes to address the problem. The ultimate goal of the day is to develop resources and policy to empower widows and allow them to have access to education, work, healthcare and lives free of violence and abuse. Enabling them to create a life for themselves and their children following the death of their husband and ending a cycle of poverty and abuse.