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Nigeria's Anambra State Moves To Protect Widows

In southeastern Nigeria, Anambra State lawmakers have passed a bill to prohibit the mistreatment of widows. The bill, expected to be approved soon by the state governor, bans discrimination and many cultural practices.

The sponsor of the legislation – Anthonia Tabansi Okoye – says discrimination against widows is widespread in Nigeria. She says the bill is meant to preserve the dignity of women.

When a husband dies, she says, widows are forced to take part in humiliating cultural practices. Some involving the husband’s corpse.

"In some cases, they are forced to drink water used in washing the corpse of their late spouse. In some other cases, they are compelled to sleep on the same bed as the corpse of the husband," she says.

Sometimes, she says, women are confined to a single room for a period of time after her husband’s death, or forced to marry a relative. Ms. Okoye says there are no similar cultural practices for men when their wives die.

"Men are not compelled to go through all these experiences when their wives die. So, we don’t see why the women should be made to go through psychological and emotional trauma because they lost their husbands," she says.

The legislation – awaiting the Anambra State governor’s approval – carries a fine of up to 20,000 Naira and up to six months in jail for discrimination and the mistreatment of widows.