WIDOWHOOD RITES AND SOCIAL STIGMA: EXAMINING THE PROCESS OF RE-INTEGRATION AND ATTITUDE OF COMMUNITY MEMBERS

Nya John Ikpeme (PhD)

Abstract


Widowhood rite which is a traditional practice of making a widow go through stages of cleansing or purification to prove her innocence in the death of her husband is an age-old practice in some states in Nigeria. This crude practice, which is usually dehumanizing and traumatizing, opens a door of demoralizing negative labels against the widows and their children thereby influencing their interpersonal relationships with others in the community. This study examines the effect of these negative labels on inter-personal relationships between the widows, their children and community members.  Selected Communities in Akwa Ibom and Abia States, Nigeria were used for this study. Attitudes of community members towards the widows and their children were examined in order to ascertain features of social stigma directed against the widows and their children. Oral interview and Focus Group Discussions were used for gathering data. The challenging process of re-integration faced by the widows and their children was examined while also highlighting the influence of some level of modern life and increasing Christian religious activities on the widow’s effort to adjust to her new status within the community.  60% of the widows interviewed noted that the effect of negative labels generated as a result of the rite is not only stigmatizing but lastingly traumatizing for them and their children. 32% of the children interviewed explain that social interaction with their peers and relations was affected negatively because of what their mothers went through. 37% of community members interviewed were in support of making a widow suffer if she is suspected of having a hand in the death of her husband. This study recommends a strengthened intervention programme aimed at discouraging the practice, not only through public education and policy formulation, but also through the provision of some form of rehabilitation for the widows in order to help them overcome depression and suicide.  It is also suggested that community members should be adequately sensitized on the social needs of the widows and their children. Such sensitization will go a long way to address the challenging task of reintegration and broken interpersonal relationships faced by the widows and their children.


Keywords


Attitudes, Interpersonal, Re-integration, Relationship, Rite, Social Stigma, Widowhood.

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