In 2015, women from communities across Nigeria gathered in Lokoja, Kogi State, for ActionAid-supported paralegal training, equipping them to handle and refer cases of abuse against women in their communities. Here we see the change that one of the women, Hauwa Salami, brought in 2016.
When ActionAid approached Hauwa’s community to recruit a woman for paralegal training, she put herself forward. As an ActionAid trained community facilitator with first-hand experience of harmful widowhood practices, and with a childhood ambition to be a lawyer, Hauwa was an ideal candidate.
“I had always wanted to impact on the lives of my people. Whenever a woman loses her husband and is subjected to harmful widowhood practices, I feel bad, and always wished I could do something to ease their suffering.’’
After the loss of their husbands, women were subjected to an extended widowhood mourning period lasting eleven months. The widows’ children were taken away from the family home, they were not allowed to work to support themselves or receive financial help from family members. Additionally amongst other things they were not allowed to wash during daylight hours or wear clean clothes and at the end of the eleven months the women had to perform expensive rites, including preparing food for the whole community, leaving them even more in debt.
Following her paralegal training, Hauwa requested meetings with community leaders and persuaded them to change the harmful widowhood practices.
“Before the training, I never knew I could convince my community leaders to agree to the changes and even implement them. More than five women who have lost their husbands since this new law have observed only three months of mourning. Women in my community now speak out on issues affecting them and I counsel them on the right thing to do.”
The length of time that women now have to adhere to the aspects of the public mourning period has been reduced from eleven months to three. Other changes mean that widows can keep their children at home with them, are able to wash and wear clean clothes, can support themselves financially by working locally, and no longer have to perform expensive rites in the community at the end of the period. Hauwa is hoping that eventually all harmful widowhood traditions will be abolished.
Hauwa continues to support women with family issues, encouraging girls to go to school and working to stop violence against women. Her success has led her to engage with other community paralegals locally to challenge widowhood practices in their communities too.
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