Reporting on Cameroon's widowhood rites
TMP Africa contributor Yvonne Leina Chi has been getting some attention for her reporting on oppressive gender norms in her home country of Cameroon. Her latest short documentary revisits the problem of widowhood rituals, a topic she first reported on in 2010.
We asked her to tell us a bit more about her latest documentary and related future projects:
TMP: How did you become interested in the issue of widowhood rituals?
YVONNE: I got interested in this topic because despite intense campaigns done by NGOs and churches to stop these inhuman practices against widows, very minimal changes have been recorded. Widows of all ages continue to to undergo immense torture in the name of culture.
I decided to use Bea's story, though it might not be very detailed, because she is young and presents a video account of the story I did on widowhood in August 2010.
TMP: How common is widowhood in Cameroon? And do the rituals you describe occur only in rural Cameroon, or are they also found in urban areas?
YVONNE: With an increase in the number of young people dying due to HIV (not the case with the young lady in this story), there is a corresponding increase in the number of young women who are made to undergo widowhood rituals.
I can say the practice is more frequent in rural areas, but usually touches people who dwell in both rural and urban areas because, when a man dies, the tendency is usually to convey the body to his village of origin for burial.
TMP: Why do you think this tradition remains so strong? Is the government, or anyone else, working toward a change?
YVONNE: I do not know of any stringent government action that has been taken to halt this practice, but churches and NGOs have carried out a series of sensitization campaigns to this effect. In my opinion, churches have been more successful because Christian women's groups stand by the widows throughout the funeral to ensure they are not forced to go through this form of torture.
Only minute changes have been registered thanks to this. Not all churches are involved in this campaign, and the churches who are involved only protect women who belong to their women's fellowship groups.