News / Africa

    Nigerian NGO Fights Customs that Harm Women

    In Nigeria, International Federation of Women Lawyers fights to end cultural practices discriminating against widows

    MRS. FLORENCE FIBERESIMA
    MRS. FLORENCE FIBERESIMA

    The International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), is working to eliminate cultural traditions that affect women in Rivers State in southern Nigeria.

    The FIDA chairperson for the state, Florence Fiberesima, says widows are forced to drink water used to wash their dead husband's body.  Some say a woman who refuses has likely killed her husband.   

    Some widows are denied the right to inherit property owned by their late husbands.

    ''We have tried to reach out to several communities on these harmful cultural practices against widows,” says Fiberesima.

    Slow progress

    ''About two years ago, we carried out a campaign on what we called ending the culture of silence.  We saw that a lot of times, women were silent about these problems they were facing; they didn’t want to speak up,'' she says.

    ''So we wanted to tell them [to] break this culture, because you are not only trying to stop [it], but you are [also] encouraging the younger ones coming up, [telling them], ‘Don’t keep quiet and continue to suffer under these kinds of practices that do not allow you to [realize] your potential as a human being.’''

    Sometimes, a family or community drives a widow from her home, saying she has no right to the property.  

    In that case, she says, “We try to use mediation to see if we can settle within the family.  Where that is not possible, we go to court.  We have a case in court now of a woman who was [stripped] of all her possessions once her husband died.”

    As a result of FIDA’s efforts, Rivers State has laws banning harmful practices, including female circumcision.  

    FIDA was formed in 1944 by a group of seven women lawyers from Cuba, El Salvador, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the United States.  The Nigerian branch of the group was formed in 1964 and has 29 state branches.

    Its main objectives are to enhance and promote the welfare of women and children, realizing that the happiness of the home and the strength of society depend on their wellbeing.  It also works to promote the principles and aims of the United Nations in their legal and social aspects, including the rights of women.


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