Widows as 'cultural tools' : translating widows' rights into local realities in Uganda & Nigeria
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This thesis examines the persistent widespread discrimination against widows in Uganda and Nigeria that results from mandatory observance of harmful widowhood rituals, interpersonal violence, disinheritance, and forceful deprivation of property in marriage, in violation of and contrary to the provisions of international and regional human rights conventions and domestic laws. The thesis argues that international, regional, and domestic laws have not been effective to address the violation of widows’ rights because the terms in which these laws are expressed are not meaningful at the grassroots level. The thesis proposes social, cultural, economic, and legal measures to address the use of widows as cultural tools. In this thesis, I use the term ‘cultural tools’ to refer to the use of widows in Uganda and Nigeria, as in many other sub-Saharan African countries, as embodiments of cultural identity, especially in most parts of rural areas. Widows are used as tools to perpetuate traditional cultural customs such as widowhood rituals, levirate marriages, disinheritance, and widow cleansing. Article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) proclaims that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”. This provision is complemented by various international and regional instruments on discrimination and gender equality. Using the Igbo tribe of the Eastern part of Nigeria and the Baganda tribe of Uganda as case studies, my thesis examines to what extent widowhood rites amount to an infringement of the human rights of the widows in most part of the sub-Saharan African countries. The thesis examines the various international, regional, and domestic laws as they apply to or affect Nigerian and Ugandan widows either as a consequence of their status as widows or as members of the community. Thus, in light of the gap between international and state laws, on the one hand, and cultures and customary law on the other hand, this thesis draws insights from the concept of “vernacularization”. This approach combines the views espoused in Sally Engle Merry’s work and argues that to change the cultures and practices of customary law on the ground, initiatives must be taken at the grassroots level.
DegreeMaster of Laws (LL.M.)
CommitteeOdumosu-Ayanu, Ibironke; Findlay, Isobel
Copyright DateFebruary 2015
sub-Saharan African Countries