June 23, International Widows Day is an opportunity for action towards achieving full rights and recognition for widows – who for too long have been invisible, uncounted and ignored.
Sadly, worldwide widows are subjected to much discrimination and are stigmatised in many communities. Widows are commonly deprived of basic human rights which deprives them economically and leaves them vulnerable to further abuse.
In rural Tanzania, widows are extremely vulnerable to abuse: under customary law, when a man dies, his wife inherits nothing, unless she is childless and there are no other living relatives. The man’s children are his rightful heirs. However, if the children are too young to assert their rights, the man’s family often takes advantage of the situation, and expels the widow and her children from the family land. These women, alone and with no means of supporting themselves or their children, need both legal representation and practical assistance.
Empowering widows through educating them on land and property rights, and ultimately helping them represent themselves so they can access this, enables them to build strength, stability and independence after bereavement. Importantly, this process creating opportunities for widows can also help to protect their children and avoid the cycle of inter-generational poverty and deprivation.
Without inheritance rights, including a lack of rights to the property of their birth family, widows find themselves financially insecure and totally dependent on the charity of their husbands’ relatives.
Widows must be empowered to support themselves and their families. This is why educating not only widows, but women’s groups in general, as well as men and children, is so important. Women must be aware of what their rights and the importance of having wills in place to avoid the additional hardship after the death of a husband such as being stripped off their rights to assets such as land, income and property, and as a result facing destitution.
A key target of the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goal 5 is the need to undertake reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property. Action on these could impact the lives of millions of widows who have been previously dependent on their husbands for their livelihoods.
Your support will help us educate, empower and represent women in need.