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UN Women urges end to harmful practices, discrimination against widows

The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) has called for an end to all forms of discrimination and harmful practices against widows.

The UN Women, in a statement for the 2017 International Widows’ Day commemorated on June 23, called for the protection of widows’ rights to independent life and livelihood. “Although accurate information is limited, it has been estimated that there are some 285 million widows around the world, with over 115 million of them living in deep poverty. “Data on women’s status are often not disaggregated by marital status, so at every level of gender statistics, from national to global, widows are not visible. “Yet we know that many elderly widows face multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, based on their gender, age, rural location or disability. “Others are still young when they lose their husbands, perhaps as a result of conflict or because they were married as children to a much older man. These women face a long lifetime of widowhood. “Along with the shock of losing a spouse, the situation for widows is often compounded by stigma and social isolation. “In many countries, widows are stripped off their rights to assets such as land, income and property. Without access to social protection, they face destitution,’’ the UN Women said.

According to the World Bank Group’s Women, Business and the Law 2016 report, out of 173 countries, 90 per cent have at least one law limiting women’s economic participation, including constraints on their ability to inherit or own land. The UN Women said repealing these discriminatory laws was not only ethical but a mandate of the Sustainable Development Goals as the first target of Goal 5 is to `end all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere’. Action on these could impact the lives of millions of widows who are currently dependent on their husbands for their livelihoods, the UN agency said. The UN Women pledged its commitment to working with Member States and civil society to ensure the rights of widows. “This includes providing women with information on access to a fair share of their inheritance, land and productive resources; pensions and social protection that are not based on marital status alone; decent work and equal pay; and education and training opportunities. “Widows must be empowered to support themselves and their families. This also means addressing social stigmas that create exclusion, and discriminatory or harmful practices. “Such stigma include those in Togo, where a widow can be required to undergo a period of isolation and imprisonment, purification ceremonies to ‘cut the link’ with her deceased husband, and pressed to remarry. “The Sustainable Development Goals call on all of us to include those who are at risk of being left behind. “Let us work to ensure that all widows have the opportunity to build a new life after personal loss,’’ the UN Women said. The UN agency said that women had inviolable rights that were not dependent on anyone else stressing they must be able to enjoy those rights whether they are single, married, separated or widowed.

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