International Widows Day is celebrated annually on the 23rd of June. This is done in honour of women who have lost their husbands to the cold hands of death.
In 2011, the United Nations marked the 23rd of June as International Widows’ Day to help draw attention to the plight of widows across the globe in order to help offer the unique support they need.
Around the world, women’s suffering increases exponentially after the death of their husbands, especially if he was the breadwinner of the family. Humiliation from the husband’s family and the society, pressurising them and accusing them of being the cause of the death of their husbands are the order of the day for many women who lose their husbands prematurely.
International Widows Day plays a significant role in amplifying the voices of widows, to create and spread awareness about the humiliation and hardships they face and pushing countries into formulating and implementing legislation to protect their rights.
Every year around this time, the UN takes a look at certain issues affecting widows around the world and what must be done to safeguard and protect their rights.
Olubunmi Adunni was pregnant with her third child when she lost her husband. After this, her husband’s family began to fight with her, accusing her of him. She fled and crossed into a local community in Abeala, becoming a commoner, where she gave birth to Adeagbo.
Most women around the world have suffered a similar fate after the devastating loss of their partner, which is intensified by a long-term fight for their basic rights and dignity.
Research has shown that there are more than 258 million widows around the world. Widows have historically been left unseen, unsupported and unmeasured in our societies as they are often denied inheritance rights, have their property expropriated after the death of their husbands, and can face extreme stigma and humiliation, as perceived ‘carriers’ of disease.
According to research, there are an estimated 258 million widows around the world, and nearly one in ten lives in extreme poverty. In the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for instance, it is reported that around 50 percent of women are widows. Most times, these women are bullied, coerced, and compelled into participating in harmful, disparaging, and even life-threatening traditional practices as part of the burial and mourning rites of their husbands.
Worldwide, women are much less likely to have access to old-age pensions than men, so the death of a husband can lead to penury for older women. With lone-mother families and single older women already particularly vulnerable to poverty, this is an area that needs urgent attention.
According to the United Nations, “The commemoration of Widows Day is an opportunity for action towards achieving full rights and recognition for widows throughout the globe. This includes providing them with information on access to a fair share of their inheritance, land, and productive resources; pensions and social protection that are not based on marital status alone; decent work and equal pay; and education and training opportunities. Empowering widows to support themselves and their families also means addressing social stigmas that create exclusion, and discriminatory or harmful practices.”
However, there is a need for governments to start taking action to uphold their commitments to ensure the rights of widows as entrenched in the international law, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Even when national laws exist to protect the rights of widows, weaknesses in the judicial systems of many States compromise how widows’ rights are defended in practice and should be addressed. Lack of awareness and discrimination by judicial officials can cause widows to avoid turning to the justice system to seek reparations.
Programmes geared towards ending violence against widows which are poverty alleviation, education, and other support to widows of all ages, also need to be created, including in the context of action plans to accelerate the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
During post-conflict situations, widows should be brought in to participate fully in peacebuilding and reconciliation processes to ensure that they contribute to sustainable peace and security.
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