Global Resources

‘Woman, but not human’: widowhood practices and human rights violations in Nigeria

Author: E. Durojaye
Publisher: Civilistica
Publication Date: Jan 2013

Across the world gender inequality remains the norm, and women have continued to encounter discriminatory practices as a result of religious and cultural practices. This article examines a particular example present across Africa: harmful widowhood practices justified by superstitious beliefs and culturally-derived expectations. The article provides a historical perspective to the practising of such rituals, the various justifications deployed, and the implications to women’s fundamental human rights and freedoms in Nigeria.

Next, the author discusses the effects of socio-cultural and legal structures on gender equality, arguing that the plural legal system in the country, which encourages the application of statutory law side by side with customary law, can act to undermine women’s fundamental rights. The article then outlines in-depth the specific human rights of women threatened by widowhood practices, in particular the rights to dignity, equality, and non-discrimination.

The author argues that widowhood practices have continued to perpetuate the subordinate position of Nigerian women. Moreover, widowhood practices are a violation of women’s rights to dignity and non-discrimination as guaranteed in the Nigerian Constitution. Given that Nigeria has ratified international and regional human rights instruments that prohibit discrimination against women, it is imperative that the government adopts the appropriate steps and measures to address cultural practices that continue to discriminate against women.

In conclusion, the situation demands that the Nigerian government initiate a comprehensive, holistic set of legal and social reforms that responds to the needs of women, including the immediate abolition of harmful cultural practices that continue to perpetuate the inferior status of widows in society. Moreover, the government must enact laws that promote gender equality and protect women from all discriminatory practices in general. Such efforts will need to be complemented by education and awareness campaigns and programmes targeted at correcting stereotypical attitudes towards women.