Widowhood Practices In Nigeria
Mental Health,  Socio-Cultural Norms,  Violence Against Women and Girls

Widowhood Practices In Nigeria And Abuse Of Women’s Right

In many cultures, widowhood in women is considered a stigma, and widows as inauspicious. Various tribes and cultures in Nigeria have diverse ways of practicing rites pertaining to burial, but traditions are particularly hard on women. Culturally widowhood burial rites involve varying degrees of physical hardship, deprivation, ritual contamination, emotional instability, and socioeconomic and psychological trauma. Widowhood practices in Nigeria involve dehumanizing rites and rituals that women are mandated to follow. Widowhood is often the beginning of life-long oppression and misery for women.


Widowhood Rites/Practices In Nigeria

Widowhood entails the observance of certain rites by women that differ from culture to culture in Nigeria. Among the Igbo-speakings in South-Eastern Nigeria, a woman is expected to wail and cry loudly at her husband’s death, show a deep sense of grief, cry aloud morning and night, prove her innocence by drinking the water with which the corpse was washed, being locked up with her husband’s corpse. The hairs on her head and body are compulsorily shaved.


Arinze-Umobi & Anyogu (2011) stated that in some areas of Igbo land in Nigeria, it is demanded that she sleeps with the high priest of a deity to separate herself from the spirit of the dead husband as a mark of purification. The widow is made to sit at a place on a chair or on the floor from morning till evening. In some cultures, it’s taboo for a widow to sleep in the afternoon. She is not allowed to shake hands, and compulsorily undergoes twenty-eight days of seclusion without stepping out of her compound.  Thereafter she settles for additional two or five months of mourning depending on the particular cultural observances. The dress during this period is either black or white depending on the family and religious inclination.


In some cultures, the widow is not allowed to see the corpse of her husband or eat the food cooked for the burial rites of her husband. Many have diverse beliefs that the rites as passed down from generation to assist with the movement of the husband’s spirits and protect the living from further harm. As painful as it is, these obnoxious practices are perpetrated on the widow by women called “Umuada” which are daughters of the deceased immediate and extended families married to other families.


Widows, Inheritance, And Abuse Of Rights

In Nigeria, the disposition of the deceased properties is by will (testate) or by customary and traditional laws (intestate). Where there is no written will, Inheritance is generally based on applicable customs and traditions of the deceased’s ancestral community. Abuse of rights in the form of traditional practice excludes women from ownership of lands and properties, leaving many of them destitute after their husband’s death. Thanks to the landmark judgment of the supreme court of Nigeria in Ukeje Vs Ukeje SC.224/2004 Nigeria Vanguard Newspaper Onyibor Anekwe & Anor Vs Mrs. Maria Nweke SC. 129/2013 Case Law such abuse of women’s rights in the name of custom is contained.


Factors Influencing Widowhood Practices

Male dominance and Patriarchal influence

Male dominance and patriarchy primarily influence the practices of widowhood and the inferior status of women in society. Men usually remarry shortly after the death of their wives while women mourn for months and are subject to inhumane torture. In addition, the act of bride price payment by men has made them regard women as commodities exchanged for material things. The law of creation has been misunderstood, and so was gender roles. Women are excluded from the decision-making process both in their parental and matrimonial homes which has a great influence on the oppression of widows.



Women’s lack of economic freedom and inability to fend for themselves make them vulnerable to oppression and exploitation by in-laws, clans, village heads, or villagers. Often hiding under the custom and traditions, these people subject women to unwholesome practices which include demanding the late husband’s properties and in most cases selling off some in the name of raising funds for the burial of the deceased.


Lack of Education:

Lack of formal education serves as a huge setback to women as they usually do not know their rights. Lack of awareness prevents them from resisting the cultural pressure, humiliation, and inhumane abuse in the name of widowhood rites, or disposition of their husband’s properties. 


Inferior Social Status:

With widowhood, many women lose their social status. Widowhood is a risk for transition into poverty. The imposition of restrictive and extensive mourning, seclusion, and mandatory dress codes have great implications for the socioeconomic status of widows. Additionally, because of a lack of income and financial security, widows are unable to provide children’s education, adequate food, secure accommodation, and maintain the household.



Solution To The Human Right Abuse Of Widows

Mandatory Inclusion of women in family inheritance

Women or girl children should have a mandatory inheritance in their father’s and husband’s properties which are in line with the principles of equity, social justice, and nondiscrimination as provisional in the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria. Thanks to the ruling of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, which is succor to the injustice metered to widows and women in general. However, we need stricter laws to implement the rulings.


Enforcement of human rights laws:

The judiciary system is responsible for the interpretation of the law in line with the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria.  This will lead to making decisions that are constitutional and with respect to the rule of law and the widows’ rights. If the right judgments are made by the courts and enforced it will ensure free harmful practices and issues of inequality and discrimination against widows will be laid to rest.


Women Empowerment:

Women should be given qualitative education in schools, encouraged to study professional courses to recognize their rights and be employed in jobs that are lucrative to be remunerated adequately to take care of their needs such as having money to enforce their rights in court and take care of themselves and their children.


Dismantling of age-long traditions:

The traditional harmful practices related to the widowhood rite should be abolished. Communities, especially elders, Umuada, Otu, Ogbo, Ndi, Inyom, etc should be educated about the consequences of these practices and how they adversely affect the children and families. Religious leaders also need to be involved in the campaigns to assist in the enlightenment about the harmful effects of widowhood rites. Schools’ curriculum should incorporate widowhood rites and the ill effects of these rituals and the importance of eradication.


Writing of will:

In order to protect women from the customary laws after their husband’s death, men should be encouraged to make a will bequeathing their properties to their wives and children. In absence of a written will, relatives and family members get a free pass to rob a deceased man’s property which imposes a risk of lifelong poverty and misery on his wife and children.


Economic and Employment Support to the Widows

Governments and non-governmental organizations, as well as religious bodies, should take up the responsibility of effective campaigning and awareness program to stop dehumanizing widow rites. Women should also be empowered and educated to resist traumatizing widowhood rites and be aware of their legal rights. Widowhood empowerment through skill acquisition should be considered by the Government and other stakeholders to aid in self-reliance and upkeep of the family. 


1. Adeyemo, C Wuraola (2016): Widowhood and its harmful practices; causes, effects and the possible way out for widows and women folk. World Journal of Educational Research http://dx.doi.org/10.22158/wjer.v3n2p380

2. Arinze-Umobi, C & Anyogu, F. (2011): The Widow in South East of Nigeria in Legal and Customary turbelence: Need for mandatory paradigm shift. International journal of research development .pp. 1-14

3. Nwogu, Mary Imelda Obianuju (2015): The legal anatomy of cultural widowhood practices in southern eastern Nigeria: The need for a panacea. Global Journal of Politics and Law Research Vol 3. NO 1. pp 79-90 www.eajournals.org 

Also read: Widowhood Practices In Nigeria And Abuse Of Women’s Right



  • Amaka Elochukwu

    Amaka Elochukwu is a Registered Nurse, a divorced mother of one who enjoys writing. Amaka believes that all genders are equal and should have equal rights and looks forward to seeing such changes acknowledged in her own country, Nigeria.

We would love to know your feedback about the post

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.