Message from Michelle Bachelet, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director, UN Women, on the occasion of the first commemoration of International Widows’ Day, 23 June 2011.
Women who lose their husbands suffer a great loss, but they remain vital contributors to their families and societies. On this first International Widows’ Day, we salute their achievements in continuing to care for their children, manage homes and jobs, and sustain leadership roles. We do so with the greatest respect because they do this in the face of adversity, not just from grief, but also from discriminatory social conventions that in far too many societies still relegate widows to positions of invisibility and marginalization.
This first International Widows’ Day is an important global step towards ending this discrimination, and promoting the universal protection of their rights. Today UN Women stands with the UN General Assembly in its resolution to affirm that widows must be granted the rights accorded to them under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and other international agreements.
Because the reality is that worldwide, the denial of universally recognized rights means that many widows end up destitute. Some cannot inherit assets, even if it is essential to their survival. Others face eviction from their homes and communities. In the challenge of adjusting to their new reality as sole provider and parent to their children, they may find that social service systems offer little or no support, whether the issue is childcare or acquiring skills to find employment.
Today, there are 245 million widows in our world, and approximately 115 million live in extreme poverty. Through armed conflicts and the AIDS epidemic, their numbers continue to disproportionately increase. Yet far too often, no strong collective voice speaks for their rights or calls for their protection.
On this International Widows’ Day, UN Women urges all advocates for gender equality to join in and raise this voice so that it is heard and steps are taken to empower widows as part of efforts to advance gender equality. A major piece of this entails increasing women’s participation in all aspects of decision making, ending gender-based violence and improving women’s economic standing, particularly by strengthening their land, property and inheritance rights.
Recent years have seen a growing number of countries that endorse these rights. When all women have equal opportunities to be vibrant and valued members of their societies, the world will be far closer to our common objective of shared prosperity and peace.