Tuesday, June 6, 2023

FEATURE: How to check hurtful practices against widows in Plateau

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By Martha Agas/NAN

When Chudung Sunday, 55, from Kwogo-Hoss community in Riyom lost her husband in 2015, her husband’s brother accused her of killing him.

The brother-in-law made all attempts to frustrate the poor widow, instigating the children against her, especially as Chudung refused to be inherited as his wife as practised by their culture.

Chudung alleged that she had also been beaten on several occasions in the community for attempting to broker peace between her son and his wife because she objected to taking to the elders’ forum the challenges of his son’s marriage for settlement.

“I was not giving the opportunity of handling such challenges because I am a widow even if I have the solution.

“On issues that can be tackled at the family level, they report him to the community leaders.

“I had tried to intervene sometimes and I was beaten by people; I told the community members to let me handle such cases but to no avail,’’ she said.

Chudung’s case is one out of many cases by which widows and the vulnerable are regarded as a second-class citizen in some communities, observers note.

According to them, in some instances, many widows have been reported to undergo vicious burial rituals to prove their innocence of not killing their spouses.

They are, in most cases, stripped of all the assets they acquired with their husbands not regarding the deceased children and other dependents, observers express concern.

This development notwithstanding, the UN report indicates that there are more than 258 million widows in the world with more than 15 million of them in Nigeria, living in abject poverty and experiencing different forms of infringement against their human rights such as denial of inheritance rights, physical and psychological abuse.

In attempts to tackle the development, the Federal Government has listed the challenges of widows to include poverty, social stigmatisation and economic deprivation, homelessness, forced labour and sexual abuse with a view to addressing the situation.

Observers note further that the numbers of widows are however rising, especially with the spate of insecurity in some parts of the country.

For instance, in Bassa Local Government Area of Plateau, reports show that within few months in 2022, the aftermath of clashes within the Irigwe and Fulani ethnic group, left not fewer than 300 widows.

Concerned citizens, therefore, express worry that there could likely be more cases of infringement of rights of widows in the state if the necessary regulations are not put in place to protect widows by relevant authorities.

But UN Secretary Antonio Guterres in one of his messages to mark the International Widows Day urged every country to pass legislations and policies that promote gender equality and sought commitment to ensure widows access legal and social protection, to enjoy peaceful living while reaching their potential.

Apart from this, stakeholders have called for the enactment and adoption of these legislations.

Prominent among them is the President of the International Women Society, Nkoli Ogbolu, who urged government to make legislations that would protect and empower widows in her message to mark the 2022 International Widows Day.

Although there have been many legislations for gender equality, the VAPP law succinctly will address their challenges, according to observers.

For the benefit of hindsight, the Act was passed into law in May 2015 as part of efforts to eliminate violence in private and public life, prohibit all forms of violence including physical, sexual, psychological, domestic, harmful traditional practices, discrimination against persons and to provide maximum protection and effective remedies for victims and punishment for offenders.

The act which has been currently domesticated and passed into law in 34 states according to Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development Pauline Tallen captures punitive measures for harmful widowhood practices and other related issues.

In Plateau, the VAPP bill has been signed into law and any offender in that regard could face not less than two years’ imprisonment.

The provision of the law states: “Any person who subjects a widow to harmful traditional practices commits an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term not less than two years or to fine not less than N500,000 or to both such fine and imprisonment’’.

After a careful review of the provisions of the act, the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) in the state, says the act will in lesser cases of infringement of the rights of widows and serve as a deterrent to perpetrators.

FIDA Vice-Chairperson Felicia Omerua in Plateau says the VAPP law is wider in scope of operation and have captured most cases of infringement which other laws previously would not capture.

Similarly, Mrs Jessica Vonkat the State Coordinator of Country Women Association in Nigeria, believes that the law will address issues relating to widows and their children.

“We are grateful for the VAPP law because we know what many community women are going through, especially the widows.

“When a man dies, his brother will come and take everything that he feels is useful to him, forgetting that this woman has children,’’ she said.

With high expectations on the prospects of the VAPP law in addressing harmful widowhood practices, stakeholders therefore, call for sensitisation on the law, especially in rural areas to enable widows to know that there is a law in the state to protect them.

The Executive Director of the Centre for Peace Advancement in Nigeria, Rev. Samuel Gorro, says many rural women are not educated and informed and they require enlightenment to understand the provisions of the law.

“We need to sensitise the grassroots to talking about their rights, we want people to take ownership, to be empowered and to speak for themselves. There is a gap and we need to go further to advocate for those in the grassroots.

“They need to be informed and empowered of the law so that they will ask questions and make demands, that is what we want to see happen,’’ he said.

As Plateau celebrates being one of the states who has signed the bill in to law, stakeholders call for the empowerment of the regulatory body, the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, mandated to administer the provisions of the bill for effectiveness.

All in all, a lawyer, Mary Izam, notes that for effective implementation of the VAPP law, certain institutional frameworks must be put in place such as the establishment of the gender court and critical sensitisation of the populace to ensuring the application of the law.


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