SOKOTO, NIGERIA, Aug 03 (IPS) – In February this yr, Chichi Okonkwo not solely misplaced her husband however was stripped of all the things they owned collectively. Her husband was severely injured in a automobile accident a couple of month earlier. Regardless of being rushed to a hospital in Enugu, the place they resided, he succumbed to his accidents weeks later. To compound her grief, Okonkwo’s late husband’s male siblings forcibly entered her residence within the metropolis a couple of hours after his passing, confiscating her husband’s land paperwork, automobile, cash, garments, and marriage certificates.
Within the wake of those heart-wrenching occasions, Okonkwo was left with nothing however her six youngsters. The eldest is simply 18.
“They took all the things my husband and I owned and forcibly evicted me and my youngsters from our residence,” laments Okonkwo. “They heartlessly claimed that, as a widow, I had no rights to any of my late husband’s possessions.”
Okonkwo’s youngsters at the moment are out of faculty as a result of she was a housewife who relied on her husband’s earnings and is now left with nothing. She revealed that her late husband’s siblings, who seized and had been conscious of his financial institution PIN, callously left her with a mere 1 000 naira (roughly USD 2) out of the two million naira ($2,600) he had in his account.
Okonkwo stated her husband’s relations swore to pull her to court docket to problem her rights, however she can’t afford a lawyer attributable to her monetary state of affairs.
In Nigeria, there are around 15 million widows.
Sadly, widows within the nation typically face the denial of their primary human rights attributable to conventional and cultural practices rooted in patriarchal beliefs.
In keeping with The World Bank, “In a lot of Africa, marriage is the only foundation for girls’s entry to social and financial rights, and these are misplaced upon divorce or widowhood.”
In a rustic like Nigeria, the place males dominate the financial and political methods, ladies are sometimes anticipated to be submissive. The challenges ladies face are notably amplified after they turn out to be widows, making a doubly marginalized subgroup. Furthermore, this susceptible place generally exposes widows to dehumanizing rituals and harmful practices.
These dangerous practices embrace mourning rites that contain widows sleeping with their deceased husbands’ corpses, shaving of widows’ heads, seclusion, sporting black or white garments, and being pressured to sleep and sit on the ground or mat. Moreover, some widows are coerced into marrying different members of the deceased husband’s household.
Regardless of legal guidelines granting ladies the best to inherit their husbands’ belongings, many widows can nonetheless not declare their rightful share of land and property.
Efforts to fight these practices, such because the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (VAPP) enacted in 2015, have confronted challenges in implementation and adoption by all states. In keeping with the legislation, offenders are topic to a 500,000 naira ($648) wonderful or two years in jail. However arrests and prosecution of offenders are uncommon. And gender-based violence has endured, which incorporates violence in direction of widows.
The enforcement of legal guidelines in opposition to offenders has been hindered by non secular and cultural norms that promote silence and suppression of victimization instances. Victims typically face threats or stress from relations, neighborhood, or non secular leaders every time they attempt to report incidents to legislation enforcement.
Like Okonkwo, Sarah Temidayo’s life took a tragic flip when she misplaced her husband of 4 years to lung most cancers in 2019. Nevertheless, her grief was compounded by the actions of her husband’s relations, who invaded her residence in Lagos mere hours after his passing, intent on claiming all the things that belonged to him. They even went as far as to take her wedding ceremony robe, certificates, and her then-five-year-old daughter’s garments. Devastated and with out recourse, Temitope sought justice by means of the authorized system, however her efforts have yielded no outcomes.
“I didn’t decide a pin out of my home. I needed to begin my life yet again,” she says.
Sadly, the nightmare didn’t finish there for Temidayo. She was subjected to fixed threats from her husband’s mom, who continued to torment her and accuse her of killing her son by means of witchcraft. These threats escalated to a terrifying climax when assassins attacked her at a bus cease in March 2021. She managed to outlive, albeit with six bullets lodged in her leg. Regardless of reporting the incident to the police, no investigation was carried out, leaving her feeling deserted by the system meant to guard her.
In keeping with Ifeoma Oguejiofor, a authorized practitioner in Southeast Nigeria, widows face challenges in searching for justice because of the understaffed courts, which may trigger delays within the decision of instances. Moreover, the monetary burden of hiring a lawyer turns into a big impediment for a lot of widows, making it troublesome to entry correct authorized illustration to deal with their instances.
“There’s a vital distinction between the legal guidelines written in books and the precise pursuit of justice. In keeping with the legislation, a surviving partner, whether or not in a conventional marriage, a protracted interval of cohabitation, or a wedding registered beneath the act, is entitled to inherit the property of their deceased partner. Nevertheless, attaining justice by means of the authorized system is usually a protracted and expensive course of, notably for widows who’ve already misplaced a considerable portion of their belongings to their husband’s relations,” she explains.
“It’s excessive time the federal government, conventional rulers, and spiritual clerics implement legal guidelines to guard widows in Nigeria. No lady needs to be discriminated in opposition to as a result of she misplaced her husband,” says Hope Nwakwesi, the founding father of Almanah Hope Foundation, a non-governmental group targeted on supporting Nigerian widows.
Nwakwesi, a widow who misplaced her police husband in 1994, endured distressing cultural rites, together with having her hair shaved and sporting a mourning gown for a yr. She confronted additional hardships as her relations forcibly took her property, and she or he was expelled from her office and residential within the police barracks. Regardless of searching for assist, many, together with law enforcement officials who provided help, demanded sexual favors in return.
Now, Nwakwesi is advocating for a bill in Nigeria’s legislative chamber. The invoice goals to eradicate repressive cultural practices in opposition to widows and safeguard their elementary human rights.
“My objective is to get the invoice I am preventing for authorized and signed into legislation by the Senate. The present Violence In opposition to Individuals Prohibition Regulation is simply too imprecise and lacks particular clauses for safeguarding the rights of widows. As soon as the brand new invoice turns into legislation, those that discriminate in opposition to widows will face arrest and prosecution by legislation enforcement companies,” says Nwakwesi.
Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, a civil rights activist and founding director of Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre, famous that “For the federal government to guard widows successfully, they need to evaluate and replace current legal guidelines associated to widows’ rights to make sure they’re complete, enforceable, and consistent with worldwide human rights requirements.”
“Merely having legal guidelines in place shouldn’t be sufficient; the federal government should guarantee their efficient implementation in any respect ranges of the justice system. This requires coaching and sensitizing legislation enforcement officers, judges, and authorized practitioners on the rights of widows and the significance of defending them,” she provides.
IPS UN Bureau Report
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