SITTING on the floor of a smoke filled kitchen, Rosaline Ngum mutters something as I approach her. I stretch out my hand for a handshake, but she politely tells me, "I'm not allowed to shake hands with people.
A close look at Rosline conveys clearly ,how sorrow has encompassed her being. With tears on her cheeks she tells me she`s not had a bath for a week now since her husband died.
"She would clean her woman skin (meaning her private parts) on the day of the corpse removal, then we would dress her up with a black gown, which she would wear for one year," says an old woman sitting on a stool beside the widow. "It’s our tradition. Our forefathers practiced it and we must continue. If we do not she would become mad".
The wife is often held responsible for her husband`s death, even in the case of proven illness. It is common in most villages in the North West Region of Cameroon, to find widows stripped naked, sleeping on bare floor for weeks, rubbed with unpleasant substances, not shaking hands or sharing items with people except other widows, widows can also be forced to marry one of their in-laws, to preserve family control of their late husbands' property, and be forced to drink the water that was used in washing the corpse.
A 23 year old lady recounts narrates; "For three weeks, prior to the final cleansing ceremony, I slept on the bare floor and had no bath nor change of clothes Since then I developed terrible back ache.
Ironically in most cultures in Cameroon, men are subject to few or no rituals when they lose their wives. In some tribes the man is given a new wife to prevent the late wife's spirit from disturbing him while sleeping at night
When a woman in my locality loses her husband; I pay regular visits to her trying to dissuade her from accepting to be tortured in the name of widowhood rituals. Out of 10 women I talk to, just one would heed to my advice. Culture and superstition are strong barriers to change so far as discriminatory practices against women are concerned in Cameroon. Even some highly educated ones belief it is normal for them to be treated as sub-humans. They refuse to go against the tradition, for fear of curses, and accept any form of treatment that would present them as’’ good’ to their community. I believe exposing such obnoxious traditional practices to the wider world through the media, both traditional and online, is a strong way of alerting the world about the plight of these women, for a surer solution.I have written many articles and done a number of video documentaries on Gender Based Violence in Cameroon, widowhood inclusive. I am currently using Pulse Wire as a channel to expose the ordeals of women in my country,and to discuss solutions to our problems.With Pulse Wire, the solution is near.
Take action! This post was submitted in response to Voices of Our Future Application: Challenges and Solutions to Creating Change.