A GROUP of women have kicked against harmful cultural practices which hamper the well-being and dignity of widowed women in Anambra State.
The women protested in Awka, the state capital, on Thursday, May 11.
The protesters, led by the Chairperson of the Agency on Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act in Anambra, Hope Okoye, demanded that the state government punish those perpetrating acts that violate the rights of widows.
They gathered at the Children, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Court in Awka, and held placards with inscriptions such as: ‘Allow our widows some peace’, ‘Stop all obnoxious laws and harmful widowhood practices in Anambra’, among others.
The women demanded an end to rituals that coerce widows to drink from the water with which their spouses were bathed and prepared for burial.
While addressing the press, Okoye pointed out the need for government to pay attention to the plight of widows and abolish the practices.
She said there is a need for the girl child and women to be protected from abusive cultural norms.
“We demand that government ensures justice is served on perpetrators of unpleasant widowhood practices against the girl child, women and widows, irrespective of their social status.
“The practice is widespread as it has been observed that several parts of Anambra still perform the ritual,” she said.
There have been calls for the government to make legislation to protect and empower widows in Nigeria, as they are often susceptible to traditional rituals that violate their human rights.
Several women-centred organisations have pointed out the need to draw attention to the voices and experiences of widows and to galvanise the unique support they require.
Last year, the House of Representatives moved to amend the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act to prohibit all forms of repressive widowhood practices, provide remedies for victims and penalise offenders.
In April, the Benue State Government initiated a bill to protect widowed women from harmful practices. Rivers and Bayelsa signed a similar bill into law.
According to the International Women Society (IWS), 15 million widows in Nigeria are living in abject poverty.
The World Bank estimates that one in ten widows lives in extreme poverty globally.
According to the organisation, women are also much less likely to have access to pensions than men. As a result, the death of their husbands can lead to destitution for older women.
The world body also said child widows under 18 at the time of marriage often experience multiple rights violations and must cope with the impact of early marriage and widowhood.