Today’s global challenges put widows’ rights into sharp relief. In 2020 and 2021, the World Health Organization recorded nearly 15 million excess deaths associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, while the climate crisis and rising conflicts around the world continue to endanger lives and to separate families. Across the world, we face the highest number of violent conflicts since 1945, from the DRC to Ethiopia, from Myanmar to Syria. In Ukraine, women and children constitute an estimated 90 per cent of the 14 million people forced to leave their homes. These deadly conflicts are undoubtedly leaving behind a tragic cohort of widows. These women may often have the fewest defenses against the hardships of crises but remain almost invisible in many societies. On International Widows Day, we recognize the millions of widows around the world and call for social and economic reforms that address their rights.
Around the world, cultural practices and legal barriers can mean that widows are cut off from pensions and unable to inherit money or property. We know that lone-mother families and single older women are particularly at risk of poverty, with many widows also experiencing stigma and gender-based violence. If we are to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, we cannot afford to leave these women behind.
It is essential to invest in expanded gender-responsive public services and universal social protection, such as cash transfers and social pensions, so widows are not left destitute, and to overturn the discriminatory laws and policies that strip widows of equal inheritance, pension and property rights. We must also work to collect quality data on widows’ lives, to track progress and create accountability, and ensure that women have access to full and meaningful participation as well as leadership roles, so that widows’ rights can be brought into decision-making spaces. Such actions are key to the feminist recovery we need in order to tear down the structural barriers that block progress towards a more equal and sustainable future.
Today, let us commit to working for and with widows on actions that support their rights and amplify their voices.