Remarks by UN Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri at a Dinner organized by the Loomba Foundation to launch the International Widows Day 2013 in London on Thursday 22 November 2012.
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Thank you Ms. Blair and Good evening Lord Loomba, ladies and gentlemen here to support the cause of widows’ equality and empowerment.
I came here twelve years ago for a similar event. Today, I am pleased to be here again, in a different context, as Deputy Executive Director of UN Women, to seal a partnership with the Loomba foundation to support widows in Asia, Africa and Latin America through concrete programmes on the ground.
Globally, there are an estimated 250 million widows. In many countries, widows are an invisible community and the lack of reliable hard data remains one of the major obstacles to developing policies and programmes. Traditionally many cultures frown on widows remarrying and many have their social and economic power taken away from them.
Once widowed, women in many countries often confront a denial of inheritance and land rights, degrading and life-threatening mourning and burial rites and other forms of widow abuse. For many, the loss of a husband is only the first trauma in a long-term ordeal. In many cases, they are also victims of multiple and compounding discriminations, prejudice, exclusion, exploitation, disempowerment, violence and stigmatization on account of widowhood in conjunction with poverty, living in remote or rural areas, bearing the brunt of conflict or post-conflict, post natural disaster, displacement, harmful traditional practices and HIV-AIDS pandemic.
In addition to being widows, they can suffer from other discriminations based on ethnicity, social status, religion and so on. They suffer from poverty which can be made worse by little or no access to credit or other economic resources, and by illiteracy or lack of education. Without education and training, widows cannot support themselves or their families. In many countries, but particularly across Africa and Asia, widows find themselves the victims of physical and mental violence – including sexual abuse – related to inheritance, land and property disputes.
Coming from in India, one does not need to invoke images of ‘Sati’ – and Raja Ram Mohan Roy’s work to end this practice – or of the child widow Sarala, in Deepa Mehta’s movie “Water”, with her shaven head and innocent face to feel the pain, suffering, hopelessness of widows around the world. As a young woman growing up in India, I have witnessed firsthand the effects of stigma and discrimination, of marginalization and economic dependence.
When it comes to widows, UN Women is committed to working with all the stakeholders to improve their rights as enshrined in international law, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Less than 2 years after its creation, UN Women remains a relatively new organization. We are trying to do things differently, to innovate in the way the UN works, and to push boundaries beyond anything that has done before for the empowerment of women and the achievement of gender equality.
UN Women bring value to the cause by actively advocating and driving programmes and policies for ending violence against widows and their children, poverty alleviation, education and other support to widows of all ages. Empowering widows through access to adequate healthcare, education, decent work, full participation in decision-making and public life, and lives free of violence and abuse, would give them a chance to build a secure life after bereavement.
Importantly, creating opportunities for widows can also help to protect their children and avoid the cycle of inter-generational poverty and deprivation. In this context, it is essential to create synergies among actors to ensure sustainability.
Today, I am thrilled to be here to felicitate this partnership between UN Women and the Loomba foundation to promote economic empowerment of widows in Asia, Africa and Latin America. This partnership is historic and marries common goals of two committed organizations, one under the UN Mandate and the other a tireless promoter of the same goals in the issues of women in the non-governmental sector, is a great example of moving an idea into action by joining hands across the isles towards a common purpose.
With this partnership, we seek to work concretely on programs to create a visible space for widows in their societies and give them the right tools to achieve economic independence.
I am very grateful to Lord Loomba for his commitment, vision and generous support to our work. I want to thank Ms. Blair whom I admire for her women’s rights advocacy. On this auspicious occasion, I also wish to acknowledge the dedication of many committed individuals in Loomba foundation, UN Women and others who made this day possible. My gratitude goes out to all of them as well. I would like also to extend my appreciation to Jan Grasty, from the UK National Committee, for her tremendous support.
May this 3 year partnership of ideas and action flourish and bring a positive, transformative change in the lives of widows around the world.