Welcome to the Loomba Foundation News Review, a periodic look at visibility of widows' issues in the world press. For hundreds of years, widows in many societies and cultures have suffered discrimination – but their plight has largely been ignored and invisible to the world. So much so that in 2001 the UN Division for the Advancement of Women (forerunner of today's UN Women) complained that “there is no group more affected by the sin of omission than widows”, noting that they had rarely been referenced in the multitude of reports on women's poverty and human rights published in the preceding decades.
The Loomba Foundation’s mission is to shine a torch where so long there has been darkness. We do this by conducting and encouraging research, including the World Widows Report, to underpin evidence-based policy development and to educate people about the harmful consequences of injustice and discrimination. We do it also by bringing together some of the reporting and news stories about widows that do appear around the world – some as a result of our campaigning efforts and those of other organisations engaged in the fight for widows’ justice.
We offer a digest in this Review. Those who wish to explore further can find links to current news articles from many countries in the World Headlines section of this site.
In the couple of weeks leading up to the 9th UN-recognised International Widows Day on 23 June 2019, we have stories from South Asia, Africa, Australia, North America and Europe.
Elders abuse is a widespread problem in many countries and one report from Jammu & Kashmir in India notes it is rising due to the growth in older populations. Up to one in ten older persons globally suffers abuse, much of which goes unreported, and women are particularly vulnerable. “Once widowed,” says J&K’s largest daily, the Daily Excelsior, “they are the main targets of elders abuse”.
Widows are often most at risk from immediate family. We’re reminded of this in stories from Ahmedabad in India, about an adult son assaulting his widowed mother when she urges him to work to support the family; from Madhrianwala in Pakistan, where a widow appeals to the authorities to stop relatives forcibly attempting to take her land; and from Nigeria, where the New Telegraph reports ongoing “inhuman rites” inflicted on widows, from forced return of dowries, removal of children and property, to being forced to drink the cleansing water of the dead husband's corpse “to prove her innocence”, and widespread disapproval of remarriage. The report notes the Nigeria Supreme Court ruling that excluding women from inheriting is illegal, but the law of primogeniture, whereby the eldest son may inherit the entire estate, has still not been overturned.
The stigma around remarriage in Nigeria is also picked up in the Daily Trust, which reports on the social media outrage that followed a widow marrying a younger man.
Empowerment of widows – protecting them from injustice by helping them to be economically independent – is a banner that has been taken up and is highlighted by many in the run up to International Widows Day, from The News which reports from Islamabad on free training for widows provided by Women’s Empowerment Centres; through Kenya’s Widows Might Program – funded by churches in California, Minnesota and Pennsylvania – which offers food, goats and skills training; to the Ajoke Ayisat Afolabi Foundation, a Nigeria-based NGO focused on disabled and vulnerable children as well as widows, whose focus this year includes providing empowerment, housing and food.
India’s national news website The Pioneer reports on the work of Ekal Nari Shakti Sanganathan, a widows and single women’s organisation in Rajasthan, on efforts to ensure the State recognises widow families as independent units and so entitling them to the paperwork they need to qualify for jobs under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005.
War and conflict result disproportionately in premature male mortality, leaving widows vulnerable. Today this is picked up in places as far afield as Kenya, where Standard Digital berates the Government for failing to compensate the widows of policemen and soldiers who have fallen in the fight against Shabaab terrorism; and Eastern Ukraine, where widows both from Chernobyl radiation and the recent conflicts are reported to live in extreme poverty.
Marginalisation in Developed Countries
While economic hardship drives discrimination in many developing nations, we know from the World Widows Report that widows in the developed world also face numerous problems, arising mainly from marginalisation and inadequate social welfare arrangements. A story in the Times of Malta reminds us that suicide is a significant driver of premature widowhood in the developed world too: 80% of suicides are men and nearly half of those are married.
In the UK, the Mirror reports, the austerity programme started in 2010 continues to reverberate, with the Government taking £617m last year alone (of a total £4.4bn taken so far) out of the mineworkers’ pension fund to boost central coffers, while some miners’ widows receive as little as £8.50 per week.
The daughter of a Jamaican widow writes to The Gleaner to complain that her mother has waited more than a year (and counting) for a Government response to her application for the widow’s pension to which she is entitled.
In New York the focus is on the so-called “widow’s penalty” tax trap. When a husband dies, the widow’s basic outgoings often remain broadly similar, but as a single tax filer she falls into a different tax bracket, increasing her liability by a quarter or more.
Just as we find light and encouragement in the stories of solidarity and empowerment in some of the poorest countries, there are positive stories here too. God’s Garage, a nonprofit in Woodlands, Texas, repairs vehicles for widows and single women without charge, and donates vehicles and parts too whenever it can. Have a great day, y’all!