Journal of the Medical Women’s Association of Nigeria

: 2021  |  Volume : 6  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 53--55

Eliminating Harmful Widowhood Practices

Eleanor Ann Nwadinobi 
 MBBS, EmA, President-Elect MWIA

Correspondence Address:

How to cite this article:
Nwadinobi EA. Eliminating Harmful Widowhood Practices.J Med Womens Assoc Niger 2021;6:53-55

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Nwadinobi EA. Eliminating Harmful Widowhood Practices. J Med Womens Assoc Niger [serial online] 2021 [cited 2021 Nov 27 ];6:53-55
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Definition and Categories of widowsStatisticsDocumented Harmful widowhood practicesImplications of violationsRelevant International and domestic lawsRole of Civil Society /MWANKey Recommendations


First, there is the De Facto Widow: Husband is in fact deceased. But how do you define husband. Is it a legal/statutory marriage? Or was it as most marriages in rural/developing nations, a TRADITIONAL marriage that is most often undocumented and not registered. If there is no marriage certificate, it is unlikely that widow can collect a death certificate. And without the death certificate, the widow is considered persona non grata, not eligible for inheritance.

Then there is the functional widow, whose husband has abandoned her, perhaps voluntarily or perhaps involuntarily. This could be due to impact of conflict such as Boko Haram. In these cases, where the husband is permanently missing, at what point is the woman called a widow, and at what point is she able to receive necessary documents and recognition in order to qualify for social protections and their young children?

 Categories of Widows

Not homogenous- Widows of all agesElderlyChild-Globally, 1 in every 5 girls is married, or in union, before the age of 18: this equates to 12 million a year.Conflict-Widows seen as a threat to husbands, jobs of host communitiesHIV/AIDS 'layered widows': women who had lost their husbands to Boko Haram, who were then forcibly abducted and 'married' by Boko Haram fighters, only to lose their Boko Haram 'husband.


Global estimate -There are over 300 million women in the world who are widows; comprising10-12% of our total global population - Global Fund for Widows.

In Tanzania; 76% are widowed before the age of 29 while 99% were widowed before the age 39

In Egypt; 53% of widows are between the age of 20-39

Nigeria ranks 27 out of 39 countries with One Million Widows or More - 2015 Global Widow report- Loomba Foundation

 Documented Harmful Widowhood Practices

They are different widowhood practices that widows are subjected to, This practices include but are not limited to;

ConfinementDefacementDethronementDisinheritanceSexual harassment and assaultLevirateRoutinised cryingRitual cleansingDrinking of corpse waterSevering sexual relations with the husband's corpse, and sometimes prohibiting wives from seeing the husband's corpseProperty grabbing and disinheritance.


”I was asked to sit on the bare floor . My blouse was removed. My hands tied up with rags so that I could not scratch my face or eat with my hands. If my body became too dirty they would use sand to bath me. I did not bath with water or wash my hands until after one month of my husband's death. I wore one wrapper throughout. No blouse on my chest”

- Widow, Enugu state -2008

 Relevant International and Domestic Laws

Discrimination against women is defined by Article 1 of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women 1979 (referred to as the 1979 Convention) as “any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.”

The Protocol To The African Charter On Human And Peoples' Rights On The Rights of Women In Africa:

Annex on Women's Rights (Article 21) - A widow shall have the right to an equitable share in the inheritance of the property of her husband. A widow shall have the right to continue to live in the matrimonial house. In case of remarriage, she shall retain this right if the house belongs to her or she has inherited it

The rights of widows, for example, seem sufficiently protected by article 2(1)(b) which prohibits discrimination that endangers the health and general well-being of women. The same point can be made for article 2(2), which deals with the elimination of harmful cultural and traditional practices.


NAP WPS 2017-2020 VAPP ACT 2015- Section 15 1 A person who subjects a widow to harmful traditional practices commits and offence and liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding two years or to a fine not exceeding 500,000 naira or both. Domesticated- Anambra, Ebonyi, Edo, Enugu, Kaduna and Oyo States.

 State Laws on Harmful Widowhood Practices

Anambra (Prohibition of Infringement of A Widow's and Widower's Fundamental Rights law);Cross River (Prohibition of Domestic Violence Against Women and Maltreatment of Widows law and Girl-Child Marriages and Female Circumcision [Prohibition] law);Ebonyi (Abolition of Harmful Traditional Practices Against Women and Children law);Edo (Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation law and Inhuman Treatment of Widows [Prohibition] law);Ekiti (Gender Based Violence [Prohibition] law);Enugu (Prohibition of Infringement of Widow and Widower Fundamental Rights law);Kogi (Violence Against Persons [Prohibition]) Bill;Ondo (A Bill on Harmful Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children and Related Matters);Oyo (A Bill Protecting the Inheritance Rights of Widows, Prohibition of Harmful Traditional Practices Against Widows and Other Related Matters).

 Role of Civil Society such as Medical Women's Association of Nigeria (MWAN)

Challenge and change harmful traditional widowhood practicesEngage key gatekeepers as positive influencers and champions for the protection of widowsEngage man and boys for the protection of the rights of widowsAdvocate and demand domestication and accountability for implementation of lawsSensitization using the WORTHI Campaign model, especially during Intl Widows Day - June 23rdProvide Safe and conducive spaces for violated widows e.g MWIA/WIDO2001

 Call For a Global Treaty to End Vawg

Article 15

Legal recognition of half-widows and functional widows whose husbands are permanently missing as a result of political, religious, or social unrest to be implemented 18 months after the husband's disappearance, and who are thus fully entitled to legal and government protection and benefits;State parties shall ensure that widows of all ages and all women who bear children born out of wedlock have access to the same rights and protections as married women;Recognizing that widows of all ages face vulnerabilities due to stigmatization and harmful stereotypes and are at particular risk of violence and neglect, State parties shall ensure the availability of criminal justice mechanisms and implementation of civil laws for widows who are abused and/or disinherited.

 Key Recommendations

Strengthen law implementationEstablish meaningful empowerment schemesExplore culturally acceptable remedies and restitution optionsAs put to security council and Human rights councilThere should be a UN Special Rapporteur on Widows to ensure governments keep widows on their agendas, then record and report dataThere should be a UN resolution on widowsWe must enable access to justice by all means.We must criminalise all actions depriving child widows of their human rights.We should commission a comprehensive statistical study of widowhood.


GLOBAL FUND FOR WIDOWS http://www.theloomba






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