The plight of Nigerian widows

Yesterday was marked as the International Widows Day. It is an annual commemoration aimed at drawing the global attention to the plight of widows who account for over 260m of the world’s population. They are also saddled with more than 585m kids who are fatherless. The theme of this year’s celebration is “Sustainable Solutions for Widows Financial Independence”.

At the 65th UN General Assembly on December 22, 2010, the United Nations adopted June 23, every year as International Widows Day. It was introduced to address the poverty and injustice faced by the widows and their children throughout the world. It was first celebrated on June 23, 2011.

The day was originally launched by the Loomba Foundation at the House of Lords in London in 2005. The date, June 23, was chosen because it was on that day that Shrimati Pushpa Wati Loomba, Lord Loomba’s mother and the inspiration for the Foundation, became a widow.

Widowhood is a global phenomenon that cuts across all races. Victims suffer all manner of ill-treatments rooted in cultural and traditional practices that dehumanise them.

In many underdeveloped and developing countries of the world, widows are treated with no respect. Most of them also suffer social exclusion, hunger and poverty along with their children. Moreover, many are driven to suicide as they are made to see widowhood as a death sentence. However, their counterparts in Western countries are fortunate. They are more secure and often have their own sources of income. Curiously in some African countries like Kenya, there are lots of opportunities that encourage volunteers and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) to help widows and their kids get their lives back.

Although there are no available statistics of widows in Nigeria, the country has more than its own fair share of the population of widows and fatherless children. The situation has been compounded by the Boko Haram terror war in the North-east axis that raged for several years, throwing up countless numbers of widows and fatherless kids.

Generally, widows in Nigeria are denigrated, abused and even criminalised. They are seen as the prime suspects in their husbands’ demise except those widowed by conflicts. Those who lose their spouses through natural causes or accidents are not spared. They are oftentimes accused of witchcraft. They are also subjected to harmful practices, one of which is forcing them to drink the water their husbands were bathed with even after embalmment to prove their innocence. Many widows have thereafter suffered health complications and death arising from the poisonous liquid. When that happens, the family members of the deceased breadwinners throw their arms into the air and exclaim: “We said so!”

Indeed, the Nigerian environment is very hostile to widows. Besides subjecting them to inhuman and other degrading practices, most victims are dispossessed of their husbands’ belongings such as houses, cars and businesses. They are then thrown into the streets empty handed, not caring a hoot about the welfare and future of their fatherless kids, most times if they refuse to remarry any members of the deceased’s family or yield to their sexual advances. Most of them have their heads shaven. They dress them in black and made to mourn for months with nothing much to eat. Some are not allowed to clean up themselves regularly in demonstration of their losses.

However, we acknowledge the efforts of many private organisations and public-spirited individuals in the country who have taken it upon themselves to assist this category of Nigerian women and their kids. Many have gone to the extent of seeking legal redress for the victims of this cruelty from their late spouses’ family members.

We call on government at all levels to put in place necessary measures to protect widows and their children. Whatever cultural and traditional practices widows are meant to be exposed to should be subsumed under the laws of the land. It is a fundamental right of the widows to live a normal life after the demise of their husbands. Where criminality is suspected in the death of the man, the law must be allowed to take its course. Even where autopsy exonerates a widow, family members argue that death by witchcraft cannot be detected by such an examination.

We also urge husbands to form the habit of preparing their wills in the event of sudden or natural death. Putting a will in place is not a death sentence. It is a normal practice in civilised countries of the world. By so doing, the future of their wives and kids will be secured from the ravenous family members ever out to reap where they did not sow.

It is gratifying to note that a Bill to protect the interests of widows and to criminalise their ill-treatment by family members is receiving attention in the National Assembly. We call on the lawmakers to speed up the passage of the Bill. By so doing, the plight of the widows would be addressed, consequently ensuring that they are not robbed of their entitlements by rapacious relations.

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