In Nigeria, widows often suffer a double loss after their husband’s death; the assets they should inherit are taken by their in-laws, two NGOs are trying to stop the abuse and exploitation of widows by promoting their rights and calling for stronger legislation.
For ears, Anthonia Nzegbunne, 59, watched her husband struggle with a chronic illness, on that eventually took his life. When he died eight years ago, Nzegbunnes grief was compounded by another tragedy: the stigma, neglect and exploitation that widows around Nigeria have to endure.
Today, Nzegbunne works in a market stall in Ikotun, a Suburb of Lagos to support herself and her four children but most of the shelves are empty. After her husband’s death, she had planned to sell half of their land and use the money to build a home on the other half. Instead, she lost everything.
“My husband’s relatives sold the land I was supposed to inherit”, Nzegbunne says. “life has been difficult. I do not have the power to fight the battle.”
Under Nigeria Federal law. If a married man dies, a portion of his assets automatically goes to his wife. But in many parts of the country, women are denied the right to inherit in some cases, their families and communities do not know or simply ignore the law. In others, the women were married under customary or religious law, which does not grant inheritance rights to wives and daughters.
Widows in Nigeria cultures, when a man dies, his wife is accused having a hand in his death until she proves her innocence through a series of rituals. “I was compelled to shave my hair and put on dark/black clothes for one year, “Nzegbunne says, a widow can be forced to sleep in the same room as her husband’s body during the mourning period, which can Last days, or to drink the water used to clean the body.
Many widows in Nigeria are accused of withcraft, which can lead to being ostracized, abuse or even death. Due to lack of reporting, there is no way to know how many women in Nigeria have been killed over withcraft fears, but experts agree the number is rising.
Spreading the word on the law the 2015 world widows report by te Loomba foundation says there are 258millions widows around the world, of which 3.5 million are Nigerian. In may 2015, the federal government signed into law the violence against person(prohibition) (VAPP) act to protect people against various forms of violence, including harmful widowhood practices. It was the first time federal law has expressly grated widows protection from abuse, but enforcement is weak.
“Some widows go to the extent of attempting suicide due to the harsh maltreatment, “says Chinwe Bode-Akinwande, founder of the eponymous CBA foundation, a Lagos-based NGO that supports widows and their vulnerable children.
Bode-Akinwande, 42 is working to ensure that the VAPP act is enforced at every level of government to raise awareness of the law, the NGO visits state government to push for bills like the VAPP to be enacted at a state level, and gets the word out through social media, using the twitter hashtag careisaction.”(it) truly don’t care regardless of what you claim, “Bode-Akinwande says of the slogan. Founded in 2015, the CVA foundation has worked with over 4,100 underprivileged widows in Nigeria, Bode-Akinwande says that with the organizations support, many widows have been able to start businesses of their own, while 42 children who had dropped out of school have been given scholarships to continue their education.
Mrs Eyiyemi B is one of those widows. “I have been neglected by my husband’s relatives since he died two years ago,” Eyiyemi, from Akoko Edo, Edo State in southwest Nigeria, says. “when he died , his siblings accused me of having caused his death, for not allowing him to provide my first daughter and her grand-daughters for genital circumcision and ritual incisions as demanded by family traditions.
His family claimed this is the cause of his death and I was blamed for everything’. She said harmful widowhood practices does not respect your religion, status or level of education, hence this made it easier to strip the widow of all rights to her husband’s properties, “those that were supposed to be the rock I and my children can stand on after my husband’s demise are the same rock that shattered my family into pieces’. My children have been on the run due to threats to their life, for demanding rights to their father’s properties. But the foundation helped her by providing funds to open a petty trading store, provide her free legal service, organizing meeting with community leaders.
Eventually, the leaders gave access to one of her late husband’s properties while legal process of re-possession of other properties is been filed in court.
Protecting widows with a will one simple solution to protecting a widow from is treatment is for her husband to write a will, advocates says. Many men fail to write wills clearly stating how their assets will be distributed, leaving their wives vulnerable to abuse from in-laws.
But Felix King , founder of the Felix King Foundation, another NGO working to strengthen policies on the treatment of widows, worries that in laws often disregard written wills, prompting the need for more advocacy.
“Our ambition is to see to the abolishment of widows’ maltreatment in Edo, Ondo and Ekiti state, “King says , in June 2017, king presented a private bill to the Edo State House Of Assembly for the protections of widows, orphans and disadvantaged women from rights violations and other abuses. He wants the government to implement a law that will criminalize the maltreatment of widows. “we are hopeful the proposed bill will be passed.”
Cidinma Ejidike, the widow from Anambra state, wants to see the day when widows are respected, not feared or exploited “widows need to be protected from the injustice, dehumanization and deprivation of their husbands’ property,” Ejidike says, “with this in place widows can live happily.
Culled from Platform Times