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NGO President Discusses Plight of Widows in Nigeria

On Wednesday, March 12, and Thursday, March 13, the Lehigh University/United Nations Partnership hosted Dr. Eleanor Nwadinobi, president of the Widow Development Organisation (WiDO).

Nwadinobi presented a pair of open forum events in which she discussed the work of WiDO, the NGO she’s run for the past 20 years. She also engaged in dialogue with students and professors regarding the work of her NGO and the experience of widows in Nigeria.

In Nigeria, a woman is often seen as part of her husband’s estate and may be disinherited after his death. In addition, she must go through a months-long mourning period that may include confinement and a loss of societal support. WiDO’s work is predominantly focused in a southeastern state of Nigeria, and its overarching goal is to reduce harmful traditional practices toward widows.

Nwadinobi shared the challenges and lessons of her work as the manager for the Nigeria Stability and Reconciliation Program (NSRP), an organization that assists women and girls in a peace building program in Nigeria. The rising violent conflict in Nigeria is resulting in an increase in child widows, especially in the north of the country, where early marriage is practiced.

In working to addressing the injustices that widows in Nigeria often encounter, WiDO works directly with traditional and religious leaders in rural villages to change traditional mourning practices. WiDO has made great strides in the last 20 years in working to put an end to these practices, such as widows being forced to drink the water in which their dead husband’s corpse has been cleansed.

Nwadinobi said that in the area her NGO does its work, they have seen a marked reduction of these practices over recent years, but they still commonly have to deal with major issues such as disinheritance from all property rights once the husband passes.

One of the NGO’s main near-term goals is to complete a database of all widows in the region and record such data as the husband’s cause of death and the change in economic status of the woman following the husband’s death.

In addition, Nwadinobi says that there must be a continued push to bring an end to traditional practices, not just in Nigeria, but across the whole world. Her key recommendation in regard to the 2014 UN Commission on the Status of Women is for the appointment of a special rapporteur on widows’ rights and for the Secretary General to commission an international study on widows.

WiDO was formally granted association with the UN Department of Public Information in 2010, and it relies on donations to continue its work. To find out more about the organization, please visit www.widoafrica.org or contact Lehigh University student Gus Ipsen at aii214@lehigh.edu.

By Gus Ipsen

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