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Widowhood: Women Narrate Ordeal

By The Citizen

In Nigeria, widowhood is becoming a painful moment in the life of a woman, whose husband dies. In addition to certain harmful  practices against widows, more socio-economic challenges are forcing them to imbibe some unethical and immoral strategies to survive. Ruth Choji takes a look at the plight of widows in Nigeria.

When a woman loses her husband, people sympathise with her and after few weeks, leave her  to her grief. But the death of a spouse has far-reaching effects on the survivor because the surviving wife must cope not only with emotional loss, but also with changes from extended families and society at large. In Nigeria, the situation is made worst because of culture and tradition.  In many cases, the widows are evicted from their homes and physically abused; some are even killed by members of their community or their own family. Older widows are associated with witchcraft and are accused of killing their spouse.

Mrs Rifkatu Josiah, a mother of three who lost her husband after 10 years of marriage shared her experience with LEADERSHIP Sunday. She said, 'I lost my husband immediately after the birth of my fourth daughter. We were happy together when he was alive. He refused to make me work despite the fact that I have an HND in purchasing and supply. At first, people kept trooping in with lot of goodies. Few weeks later, members of his family came in one early morning for a meeting; they asked for the house document and car keys. I was still reeling from the shock of the death of my husband, so naturally I flared up and walked them out of my house.

That was the genesis of my problem, they accused me of killing their son to inherit his properties and I wonder if he wasn't married to me, whether their son would have gotten those things. For the past five years, I have been battling with them and this is the only house my husband built, I don't know where they want us to go? As at now, they don't help in paying the fees, in fact the only time you see them here is when they come to harass me'.

Another widow who spoke with leadership on widowhood is Mrs. Abigail Ishaku, a mother of 3 children. The petty trader stated' my husband was a driver with an oil company and so he was making money. He has an accident with his boss and both of them died. The company gave us three million naira and that is when my problem husband elder brother wanted to claim the money, but luckily my late husband has put the name of our son as his next of kin.

So the company called us and gave us the money. I deposited the money in my account which my leader brother quickly made me open. I think that was what saved us because it got to a stage where they came in a group and ransack the house, looking for the money. They took me to the police station, but my family brought a lawyer who threaten to sue them to court if they continue harassing me. The money is what I have been using to train my children in school and also take care of them through my petty trading. Life hasn't been easy but God has been helping us'.

Dr(pastor) Gloria Adeboyega is a psychologist and counsellor, speaking to leadership on plight of widows, the woman of God said 'When your spouse dies, you may feel alone and grieved. As a widow, you should openly express your feelings as this will help the healing process which begins with the pain of loss. There is no 'right' way to mourn, and no time frame for mourning. Some mourners are encouraged to cry openly, talk with others about their feelings, or write things down.

You will likely feel and express a range of emotions, from anger, to denial, to shock, and emptiness. as much as losing one spouse is painful and could open a new chapter in women lives, life must still go on, not only for the woman but also for the children whom the man left behind and she can do this  by not rushing to start afresh. You will need to pick up the pieces of your life and move on, but you need to take time to accept your spouse's death and all the problem that can with it.

If you can't do it alone, you can Seek support from friends and family, children, siblings or even parents who will  provide not only an outlet for your feelings, but the empathy and unconditional love you may have been missing after the death of your husband. You will make mistakes at first and also be exploited by heartless people, but don't be afraid to take decision. You will learn from your mistakes.

The young widow can start afresh by Going out with old friends and making new ones even though you may still miss your husband, but that should not sentence you to a life alone. Learn to serve others, not just your children as this will give you inner peace and take your mind off some of your problems and loneliness. The widow must also get engage activated in extra activities like Exercise and plan how to reduced financial resources'.

A legal practitioner who has handled the cases of a few widows is Barrister Grace Chigozie and she said that' what Nigerian and African failed to understand is that,   women's rights are human rights  and so it is taken serious in developed countries. It is only in Nigeria and Africa that they are treated like second class citizens.  A widows is a woman that married a man under native law, the Marriage Act or any other law recognized in Nigeria and the husband dies and the woman remain unmarried for the rest of her life.

Women like this have  rights to life, dignity of person, freedom of association, thought, conscience, expression, movement and freedom against discrimination amongst others. It is rather unfortunate that nobody ensure that this law are enforced to protect this women, Except for some few states in the east who have passed bill like 'The prohibition of Infringement of a widow's and widower's Fundamental Rights Law 2001' which forbids dehumanizing acts to widows.

Mallam Hassan Maidabinu is a Muslim teacher, speaking on the plight of widows in the Quran; teacher stated that the glorious Quran recognizes neither castes nor fatal persons. Women in Islam are encourage to marry to avoid the temptation of falling into immorality. Widows and divorcees have the freedom to marry whomever they choose. There is no stigma attached to divorce or widowhood in the Quran if you will read 2: 231, it says 'When you divorce women and they fulfill their terms [three menstruation periods] either take them back on equitable terms or set them free on equitable terms; But do not take them back to injure them or to take undue advantage, If anyone does that, he wrongs his own soul.

Do not treat Allah's signs as a jest' while Quran 2:234 also says that 'If any of you die and leave widows behind, they shall wait four months and ten days. When they have fulfilled their term, there is no blame on you if they dispose of themselves in a just manner' and the next chapter says which is 2:240 says 'Those of you who die and leave widows should bequeath for their widows a year's maintenance and residence. But if they [the widows] leave (the residence) there is no blame on you for what they justly do with themselves'. So it is not possible to see real Muslim maltreating widows, instead we are told to protect and shield them by marrying them'.

Another clergy who spoke on widowhood in Nigeria is  Pastor Gideon Ibrahim of Gospel of Hope church, Masaka and he said 'the Bible has said in different verse that true religion is taking care of widows and orphans, so Christianity respect and seek to cater for the widow who doesn't have strength to work or marry again. The book of Isaiah also said that 'Do not be afraid; you will not suffer shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood. Neither shalt thou be confounded who had no children'.

On the 21st December 2010, the United Nations General Assembly formally adopted 23 June as International Widows Day, endorsing by unanimous acclaim a proposal introduced by President Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon. As well as formally recognizing 23 June as a day of observance, the accompanying resolution called upon 'Member States, the United Nations system and other international and regional organizations to give special attention to the situation of widows and their children.'

In the 2013 international widows day celebration which has theme is, the minister of women affair and social development, Zainab Maina whose mandate is to cater for women, children and the vulnerable said,' as a result of the recent security challenges, coupled with the effects of HIV/AIDS an aggravated by inter- tribal crises, the population of widows is steadily increasing in Nigeria. These women have to cater for themselves and their families alone, sometimes the appropriate knowledge and skills needed to take over the role that fate has bestowed on them'.

On government effort for widows in Nigeria, Maina said' government is making progress towards the attainment of the millennium development goals (goal 1 and 3), Beijing platform for action and National gender policy and that, they are providing an opportunity to give special recognition to the plight widows and their children in order to restore their human rights and alleviate poverty through empowerment'.

Commenting further, the minister called 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.

She also called Nigerians, individually and collectively to spare a thought for widows to bring about an improvement in their well being.