As the world commemorates International Widows Day, it is only fair to address the pressing challenges widows have to face using African widows as a case study.
A lot of obnoxious rituals bedevil the life of African widows some of who have no choice but to comply with these rituals ranging from ‘sexual cleansing’ to sleeping with the dead husband’s corpse.
Though some of these African widows put their feet down to resist these practices which could expose them to diseases like HIV, refusal to comply may result in abuse both physical and sexually or the widow may be ostracized.
Karen Brewer of Widows Rights International (WRI) described the plight of some of these African widows as similar to having to choose between the devil and the deep blue sea “Widows are damned if they go through the rituals and damned if they don’t,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“If you accept these inhumane and degrading rituals, you run the risk of disease. If you don’t, you are condemned for not saying goodbye to your husband, and are abused and ostracized.”
The Plight Of African Widows
In Cameroon, following the death of their husbands, scores of women are abused and exploited by their in-laws and sometimes forced to undergo cleansing rituals or marry one of their husband’s relatives in a practice known as widow inheritance.
In addition to the aforementioned, there is also what is called traditional cleansing intended to rid a widow of her husband’s spirit. While some communities suggest that the widows have sex with some stranger, others chose to make them drink the dirty water used in washing their husband’s corpse.
For Tanzania, the case is almost the same as seen in the life of 37-year-old widow, Lydia Nyamaka, from the Luo tribe in Nyahongo village about 1,120 km from Dar es Salaam, who has been ostracized for refusing to be ‘inherited’ by her brother-in-law through a custom known as sexual cleansing after her husband died.
The obnoxious custom requires the widow to have have sexual intercourse with one of her husband’s brothers in order to be ‘inherited’ by her in-laws.
For refusing to comply with this tradition, Lydia Nyamaka was ostracized and leads a lonely life.
These practices extend to other African countries such as Zimbabwean, Sierra Leone where women were encouraged to wash stones instead of corpses during the Ebola outbreak to avoid spreading the virus and Nigeria where the widow’s children are expected to suffer if she refuses to comply to the rituals.