Tue. Nov 30th, 2021

An Article by Aladegbami Oluwatoyin Esq. in commemoration of the International Day of Widow 2021

Widowhood is an event that constitutes the greatest and saddest change in the life of a woman. Death of the husband often tend to brings numerous problems for the widow. She realises that from the point of view of her parents, she belongs to another house, whereas, for the in-laws she is a burden on the family economy and, hence, not welcome. All of a sudden, she is exposed to face the pain of bereavement as well as realign herself to a new role. All over the world widows are found to have many problems in common. Economic and emotional setbacks are inevitable for them.

Widows are among the most vulnerable categories of people in the world. It is estimated that the numbers of widows around the world to be in the region of 245 Million, of which 115 Million live in poverty.The social stigmas attached to them deprive them of their basic human rights and freedom of speech. They are prey of physical and sexual assaults and harassments, accused of various sexual misdeeds and are socially marginalized. We often hear about widows getting physically tortured in the name of evil witches, sexually harassed by the well known people of community, raped, and even forced and displace from their homes. These taboos and social stigma to widowed women are entirely man made under the shadow of religion or cultue. Widows are forced to adapt self belief and patience.

It is painful to note that women worldwide who have lost husbands, grief and pain are an overwhelming experience for them. But for many of these women, their sorrow has been multiplied to an unbearable level due to isolation, expulsion from family, loss of property rights, and other extraordinary pressures that are often overlooked.[1]

An article reported from Johannesburg, South Africa written by Kim Harrisberg for the Thomson Reuters Foundation said that women often only earn legal or socially recognized rights to land and property through a husband or father[2]. These rights are regularly violated during times of disaster, whether that be a war, the HIV/AIDS crisis or the coronavirus. She quoted Patricia Chaves, head of the women’s rights charity EspacoFeminista, as saying that in Brazil when a man dies, women are approached at the funeral about selling their land.

In Kenya, there are reports that widows were forced out of their homes by their in-laws during quarantine because they were seen as an extra burden and not really part of the family, said Victoria Stanley, a World Bank land specialist.

Similar difficulties face widows in Nigeria. In one of the states in the geopolitical region of South East Nigeria, legislators enacted laws in 2001 prohibiting widows from being compelled to do such things as shave their heads, be locked in the room with their husband’s corpse, or be compelled to remarry a relative of her late husband’s. Yet nearly two decades later, some of these practices were being kept alive through sociocultural norms, said an early 2020 report by a group of health researchers.

“There are often frictions between cultural practices and state policies/laws, as well as human rights, which obstruct policy implementation,” they wrote. “The lack of resources in low-resource regions adds to the difficulty in enforcing laws and policies, especially in rural areas, giving room for abhorrent cultural practices to thrive. These conditions prolong and intensify the traumatic experiences of widows[3].”

An exploratory study was conducted on 140 widows. A questionnaire consisting of two parts was prepared by the investigators to seek personal information (Part-I) and problems in the areas of money matters, child-rearing and personal and social life (Part-II). The questionnaires were personally delivered to the respondents and they were requested to fill in their answers. These were collected back after a suitable interval. The investigator read out the questions and noted down the responses of the widows who were not literate. Characteristics of the Sample The sample consisted of widows in the age range of 25 years to 70 years. All the widows had children of varying ages. Their family income varied from 20,000 to 80,000 per month. The educational status of most of the widows (75 per cent) was matric and below. However, 25 per cent were graduates and postgraduates. Sixty-eight per cent of them were house-wives and the rest were employed. Forty per cent of those who were employed took up jobs after the death of their husbands, whereas, 60 per cent of them were already employed. Out of those who took up employment after the death of their husbands, 25 per cent obtained the job through the organisation where the husband had been working. As many as 85 per cent of the widows reported a variety of problems in the financial area. A large number of widows experienced financial difficulties in meeting the basic needs of children such as providing good food, clothing and school fees. Financial strains to purchase items of luxury, maintain “give and take” with friends, maintain their previous standard of living, pay back loans taken by the husband, fulfil his liabilities, and meet personal expenses, were also expressed by the widows.

The well-being of a woman continues to be tied to her marital status whether she is single, divorced or widowed. Widows remain amongst the most vulnerable members of society It is time we break down the barriers to women’s access to land around the world, and make sure to protect women’s rights[4].  Bringing this point to a more local level for us to connect better with the issues we are trying to address today, one will realize that, it falls mainly to charitable and non-governmental organisations to deal with the consequences of such abuse as the cases rarely get to court because widows are unaware of their rights under the law or are too traumatised or frightened to protest. Some of these charities, such as Woman of Purpose in Eastern Uganda, provide access to training so that widows can gain new skills, provide homes so that widows and children have shelter and cows so that they have access to food for their families by selling milk at the markets. They also work with local community leaders to increase awareness of the rights of widows but there is still a lot of work to do. Most governments still ignore the issue mainly because there is a lack of data available, except anecdotal, as to the status of widows and their struggle remains invisible. The census records do not provide enough statistical data on the issue. In some cases governments misunderstanding of women’s rights have exacerbated the pre-conception that women are nothing without a male to protect them. For example the Nepalese government in December 2009, proposed giving a fee of US$ 670 to any man who would marry a widow. The women’s rights organisations of Nepal protested against this proposal which constituted little more than a state dowry. The Women for Human Rights


[1] https://www.gfa.org/special-report/widows-worldwide-face-tragedy-discrimination/

[2]Harrisberg, Kim. “From Brazil to Kenya, coronavirus widows lose their husbands and then their land.” Reuters.https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-women-landrights-t/from-brazil-to-kenya-coronavirus-widows-lose-their-husbands-and-then-their-land-idUSKBN23304X.  May 26, 2020.

[3]Ugwu, Dorothy I.; Orjiakor, Charles T.; Ugwu, Leonard I., Ezedum, Chucks E.; Ngwoke, Oliver R.; and Ezebuilo, Comfort. “Narratives of childless widows: exploring the lived experiences and well-being of childless widows in rural Nigeria.” International Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health and Well-being. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17482631.2020.1713657. January 3, 2020.

[4]Stanley, Victoria; and Prettitore, Paul. “How COVID-19 puts women’s housing, land, and property rights at risk.” World Bank blog. https://blogs.worldbank.org/sustainablecities/how-covid-19-puts-womens-housing-land-and-property-rights-risk. May 5, 2020.

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