In many parts of the world, the loss of a husband is just the first in a lifetime of tragedies a widow must endure. Widows can be stigmatized, stripped of their inheritance and property rights and denied the chance to find work. Neglected by authorities and overlooked by researchers, they are often invisible, left to raise their children and care for their relatives in poverty. Estimates put the global population of widows at over 250 million, with more than 14 percent living in extreme poverty.
In this episode of Deeply Talks, we explored issues affecting widows and the unique disadvantages they face as they try to earn a living and care for their families.
Roseline Orwa, director of the Rona Foundation, a support organization for widows and orphans, shared her own experience after becoming a young widow in Kenya. She emphasized the importance of supporting younger widows.
“I realized that widows were meant to grow small, smaller and even disappear … and this was not only my story but [the] story of every widow that came across to bereave with me or visit me,” she said.
“I realized that widows were meant to grow small, smaller and even disappear … and this was not only my story but [the] story of every widow that came across to bereave with me or visit me.”
Risto Harma, of the Loomba Foundation, discussed how widows can be evicted from family property, be it forcibly or over time, resulting in destitution for the woman and affecting the well-being of children, too.
“For me, one of the most compelling aspects of widowhood is that it’s not just another group of people who are affected by poverty. We are talking about a causal effect to other areas,” he said. “It’s important to take the systemic effects of widowhood into account.”
Bethany Brown, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, discussed solutions HRW presented to the government of Zimbabwe based on research conducted there – including the availability of registration for all marriage types, which widows often have to prove in court, disseminating information about widows’ rights to property and making changes to the law to help them defend it.
“Older women are carrying the effects of multiple discrimination that they’ve carried over their whole lives,” she explained.
Each expert also offers concrete solutions to these rights violations based on their experience and research.
Listen to the full conversation here.