Sir: In 2011, the United Nations introduced the concept of International Widows’ Day to ensure that widows are treated equally to other women in society. International Widows’ Day 2022 is observed to highlight the voices of widows and to take steps towards the recognition of their basic rights.
However, while the global community celebrates this day, back here in Nigeria, there are wanton violations of women particularly the widows and children’s rights in the name of culture. It persists despite the existence of the Child Rights Act coupled with the fact that on May 25, 2015, President Goodluck Jonathan, signed into law the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) bill into law.
Among other provisions, the law prohibits female circumcision or genital mutilation, forceful ejection from home and harmful widowhood practices. It prohibits abandonment of spouse, children and other dependents without sustenance, battery and harmful traditional practices.
The VAPP provides a legislative and legal framework for the prevention of all forms of violence against vulnerable persons, especially women and girls. This is a happy ending for 14-year advocacy and passed through the three regimes of the National Assembly.
How far have we fared as a nation in keeping to these laws and their provisions? The tendency to ignore this call is always high because while many will view it as a dangerous fiction without merit, others may see nothing wrong in those acts describing them as mere cultural practices.
Curiously, media practitioners have seen culture lately gone the wrong way but assumed it’s the right thing, watched the traditional rulers redefine culture in the image of their actions, but viewed it as normal. The practitioners have overtly become more cautious than courageous in their reportage of wicked cultural practices.
The Civil Society Organisations (CSO) and faith-based groups, formerly known for educating the masses, no longer see themselves as problem-solvers or watchdogs of society. Rather, they now assume a high ground they do not understand, leaving the masses that initially depended on them confused.
Government has become the greatest culprit of these injustices against widows and other less privileged people of their inability to provide good health care facilities, accessible and qualitative education, and non-funding of social housing and other necessities to adequately defend the rights of widows.
Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi, programme coordinator (Media and Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos.
To reverse this trend, the most important instrument to achieve this lies in the government’s willingness to fully domesticate and enforce the 1995 Beijing Declaration. The declaration among other things upholds the universal human rights and other international human rights instruments, in particular, the convention on the elimination of forms of discrimination against women, the convention on the rights of the child, as well as the declaration on the elimination of violence against women and the declaration on the rights to development.
Government should recognise that failure to take care of the widows, the orphans and other less privileged will lead to many children being taken to the streets. And as we know, the streets are reputed for breeding all sorts of criminals and other social misfits who constitute the real threats in form of armed robbers, thugs, drug abusers, drunkards, prostitutes and all other social ills that give a bad name to society.
Very instructive, we should develop a ‘war room’ using our resolve and powers to fight the undemocratic and criminal tendencies in our consciences in order to usher in a truly egalitarian nation we all yearn for.