Why do we work with widows?
Traditional law or custom might restrict a woman from remarrying, or force them to remarry their husband’s brother. A widow might be stopped from inheriting property or possessions. They might lose all property to their deceased husband’s relatives or to a first wife. They might be restricted from working, be banned from wearing coloured clothing or jewellery, and in some cases have their hair cut off.
War, natural disasters, and the spread of HIV or AIDS mean that women of all ages become widows, including those with young children to support.
Where forced marriage occurs, a young woman might find herself widowed with small children even before she is 20, with no means of supporting herself or her children.
Recent research by the Loomba Foundation suggests that of the 245 million widows around the world, 100 million live in poverty and that one and a half million children of poor widows will die before they reach the age of five.
- Statement by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon on International Widows Day 2011
- BBC News video from 1st International Widow’s Day in 2011
Widows in Nepal
In many of the countries where Womankind works, when a woman becomes a widow she becomes worthless. In Nepal, widows are the most marginalised and discriminated against of all women.
Our partner, Women for Human Rights, WHR provides a Chhahari (safe space) shelter for widows in Nepal. At the shelter women receive counselling, legal advice, and skills training so they are able to live independently and earn a living to support themselves and their children.
- The situation facing widows in Nepal
- Women’s Voices: Sita’s story
- Women for Human Rights’ Award Winning work
- Policy: Shadow Report on the 4th & 5th Periodic Report by The Government of Nepal on CEDAW
Watch this interview with Lily Thapa, founder of our partner Women for Human Rights
Widows in Ghana
Many communities around the world still practice widow inheritance, which means a widow is forced to marry her husband’s brother under customary law. In Ghana, where polygamous marriages are accepted, this may mean that the brother-in-law already has a wife and children.
Womankind’s partner, the Gender Centre has teams that travel to local villages and try to stop violence against women. This provides an opportunity to talk to widows about their rights and explain that they have a right under Ghanaian law to inherit property, seek legal advice and do not have to remarry against their will.
They involve village chiefs and elders to change attitudes in their community towards widows and mediate directly between widows and their families. Since beginning this project widow inheritance has been banned in four communities, meaning that 5,925 women no longer risk being forced to obey this custom or otherwise face being ostracised, destitute and forced to leave.
In the video below Margaret Brew-Ward of our partner the Gender and Human Rights Documentation Centre, Ghana explains the links between widowhood inheritance, HIV and AIDS infection, and domestic violence.