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Impact of COVID-19 Legal Measures on Widows in Nigeria

Fatimah AbdulRasaq, Ph.D., Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, University of Illorin

Ayinla Lukman, Ph.D., Reader, Faculty of Law, University of Illorin

Image courtesy/Widows Rights International

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic means different things to different people. While pharmaceutical companies and technological industries globally see the pandemic as an opportunity to make profit, others consider it a threat to their socio-economic activities. However, the majority of people see it as a life threatening and unprecedented phenomenon, especially considering its rapid global spread. Meanwhile, COVID-19 has complicated the psycho-social and economic challenges of widows in Nigeria— a phenomenon not being talked about. Apart from the psycho-economic and emotional brunt of losing a bread winner to death, the economic burden shouldered by widows in Nigeria has also received a dampening threat as a result of the various regulations from government to curb the spread of the pandemic.

Hence, COVID-19 pandemic has thereby increased the vulnerable status and plight of widows amidst government struggle to combat it on the one hand and has put widows in dilemma of shouldering personal and children economic needs on the other hand.

Unfortunately, widowhood is a social phenomenon that cannot be eliminated or avoided; widows are not only exposed to the brunt of various regulations set in motion by government to flatten the curve of COVID-19, but also pressured to adapt to threatening socio-economic impacts that consequently arose from those regulations. Globally, women are likely to experience significant burdens on their time given their multiple care responsibilities as school closures and confinement measures are adopted, possibly leading to reductions in working time and permanent exit from the labour market. In this context, widows, many of whom are not prepared for emergency situations as this, are forced to take extreme and dishonourable means to survive the legal impacts of COVID-19 pandemic and consequential measures due to the entrenched gender roles among African homes.

Further, the widows that were economically empowered before the emergence of the pandemic are now facing intense pressure on their resources by unprecedented increase in demands from their children amidst government restrictions which confine means of livelihood. Most alarming is the condition of widows who lost their husbands in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria. Apart from the legal impacts of government regulations, religion and cultural regulations also make immediate confinement obligatory for widows within some specified period. Government lockdown measures further complicate their plight since close relatives that are usually expected to lend helping hands are also confined under government lockdown. Additionally, in lower income geographical settings such as Nigeria, women are largely engaged in informal work and other vulnerable forms of employment (e.g. self-employment in small subsistence businesses and domestic works), which often leave them out of formal social protection measures targeted at workers in the informal sphere.

A review of the various measures put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19 in Nigeria revealed that the most vulnerable sectors in the country are targeted. The relief packages from the Federal government, State government, private individuals, and non-governmental organizations are aimed at assisting the widows, orphans, persons with disabilities, children and small scale business owners that are most affected by the lockdown measures across the country. However, there is no assurance or verifiable parameter to ascertain the rate of accomplishment or implementation of these relief packages. Despite the huge resources dedicated to this laudable policy as announced in the media, the outcry or distress calls from genuine vulnerable groups such as widows make a mockery of the whole exercise. There is no evidence to corroborate the success of the direct cash transfer and other palliative measures to the widows in states across the country, thus reducing the whole program to unrealistic ideas without any manifest impacts on the vulnerable, due to the long duration of the lockdown.

The legal impact coupled with the religious and cultural impacts of COVID-19 on the plight of widows in Nigeria is difficult to measure. Apart from the multiplier effects of the lockdown prescribed by the government to prevent the spread of the contagious disease, widows are often subjected to extreme inhumane treatments and oppression from the family of the deceased under the guise of observing or upholding rituals prescribed by culture or religion, causing multiple negative effects on the psycho-emotional conditions of the widow. In essence, the legal impact of the restrictions order not only affects psycho-emotional well-being of widows resulting from emotional, physical and sexual exploitation commonly orchestrated by the family deceased, it has also increased poverty, economic exploitation and hardship due to lack of physical and emotional capacity of widows. Widows who are pressed by personal and family demands amidst basic inadequacies often succumb to decadent advances, exploitation and deceit that they are forced into as a result of COVID-19 and a pure desire to survive.

In conclusion, the legal and socio-economic impact of COVID-19 on the plight of widows in Nigeria is difficult to measure accurately. Thus, the restriction order among other things places a burden on widows, further complicating the existing economic, financial and emotional pressure on them. Despite the relief packages and palliatives provided by government, private individuals and organizations to the populace, much ought to be done to specifically target the welfare of widows and ensure that their plight is positively addressed.

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