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Fighting discrimination against widows/widowers

Today June 23, the international community will be marking the International Widows’ Day. It is a UN ratified day of action to address the poverty and injustice faced by millions of widows and their dependents in many countries.
Raj Loomba established the day in 2005, under the aegis of The Loomba Foundation to raise awareness of the issue of widowhood, and was approved on December 21, 2010 by the UN General Assembly.
In many countries, any widow or widower is seen as less privileged. In Nigeria, the most devastating aspect of widowhood is when a woman is passing through the ordeal.
On the average, a widow regardless of her status, is severely molested, intimidated and humiliated, including the deprivation of her late husband’s property in-laws.
In most cases, the widow in question is accused of being responsible for her husband’s demise without minding the severe psychological pains and agony she is passing through. In some communities, to prove her innocence, the poor widow would be forced to drink the water used in washing the late husband’s corpse; a practice that obviously is irrational and barbaric.
To make the matter worse, she may be sent out of her matrimonial home as if she was not legitimately married to the deceased. Even if she bore children for the deceased, she would be forced to leave with them to her parental home. It is worth noting that this aspect of intimidation can make the widow to commit suicide.
Most pathetically and  based on the locality, a widow may be forced  to marry the  late husband’s sibling, which is often seen and sanctioned as ‘customary or ethical’, even though the new husband may have been married  or even of unstable mind.
In our respective capacities, we have vital roles to play towards ensuring that these primitive practices  against  widows are much eradicated. We can assist by ensuring that in our respective jurisdictions, a widow is not treated unjustly. Similarly, every widow should be made aware and empowered to fight for her right irrespective of the circumstance. Widowers should equally be supported in any possible way to cope with the trauma of losing their wives.
Moreover, civil rights lawyers should not hesitate to fight for the rights and protection widows/widowers any time the latter are faced with such problem. In the same vein, the civil society as well as religious bodies should sensitise their members and the public understand on the negative effect of maltreating a widow or widower.
Widows on their part should also form a formidable coalition their localities to enable them speak with one voice in fighting against discrimination and humiliation. In so doing, they would assist each other to stand together in times of trauma. The less privileged ones, should equally desist from exercising despair; it’s no doubt painful for one’s spouse to die, but that should not make the victim of such circumstance see it as the end of the world. Think about it!

Comr Fred Doc Nwaozor is Chief Executive Director, Centre for Counselling, Research & Career Development – Owerri

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