Wife Inheritance and the Rights of Women to Access, Use, Control and Manage Natural Resources
Upon the death of her husband, the predictable ‘Opo’ (wife inheritance) tradition practiced in some communities in Southwestern Nigeria took centre stage. The deceased man’s younger brother was given possession over all he had. That included Iya-Bose! Without being given any say she, her dead husband’s taxi cab, farmland, house, etc; were passed on to his younger brother.
This woman gave in to a discriminatory traditional practice because it was the only way she and her children could still partake of the inheritance she was denied. She had to become owned so she and her children could have access to her late husband’s assets.
Imagine that she would continue working on a farmland and living in a house she had no hope of ever owning for as long as the traditions that upturned her inheritance rights subsisted. Iya Bose was just another helpless victim of oppression, enslavement and denied rights and dignity; under the guise of customary practices.
She tilled and worked the land but was unjustly denied the right to own it
Logs taken from felled trees were not her portion but the wood shavings
She fetched all the water but there was barely any left to satisfy her own needs
How could anyone forget the trickling tears that dulled her face as she choked from the cooking fire’s smoke?
Now she‘s pressed and must wait for nightfall to relieve herself
Weary and helpless, she begins to crumble under the weight of it all
Her heart cried for change which was hard to pin down
Then came the wise-green-guide who said to her:
“Rise Up! Claim your rights over all that nature bestowed humanity”
She regarded the call!
Now she is wise and green.
Nigerian grassroots women are mostly peasants. Generally, they constitute the greatest percentage of the poor in the country and depend almost completely on the natural environment for survival. Natural resources such as air, timber, land, water, mineral resources are almost the last resort for the Nigerian woman. Sadly, these women are disadvantaged by statutory and customary rules that fail to improve and secure their rights to these resources.
The foregoing anecdote and poem captures the diversity, complexity and harsh realities of Nigerian grassroots women’s experiences in accessing and controlling natural resources; as well as earning dignity and respect. My learning experiences which revealed that environmental challenges have the harshest impacts on the lives were motivational for me in the founding of Women Imitative for Sustainable Environment (WISE) in 2009.
WISE is an action oriented response towards changing the status quo by enhancing the right and role of women in natural resource access, use, control, and stewardship. The organization clamors for and supports the active participation of women in environmental matters as a means to empowerment and sustainable development.
Women can no longer be spectators and must have a say in the use and distribution of natural resources. I know too well that achieving secured rights to natural resources will better the lives of women.