The international community must take stronger action to end widespread discrimination against widows, the acting head of the United Nations entity mandated to promote gender equality today said reiterating that an estimated 115 million widows around the live below the poverty line and 81 million are subject to physical abuse.
“On this International Widows' Day, UN Women calls for action to end discrimination against widows so they can live in dignity and enjoy equal rights, opportunities and full participation in society,” the UN entity's acting head and deputy executive director Lakshmi Puri said in her message for the Day.
“Absent in statistics, unnoticed by researchers, neglected by national and local authorities and mostly overlooked by civil society organizations – the situation of widows is, in effect, invisible,” the UN General Assembly said in 2011 when it declared the first International Widow's Day to be marked annually on 23 June.
Women whose husbands died are at a greater risk of slipping into poverty, their economic resources often exacerbated by little or no access to credit or private property, and by illiteracy or lack of education.
Millions of the world's widows endure extreme poverty, ostracism, violence, homelessness, ill health and discrimination in law and custom. Yet widows contribute to society as mothers, caregivers and heads of households, added Ms. Puri, and their rights should be upheld by national laws and policies.
These should be guided by the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women which the UN General Assembly adopted in 1979, and is often described as a bill of rights for women, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
There are more widows this year than ever before, Ms. Puri said. She attributed the rise to armed conflicts, the HIV/AIDS pandemic and the age difference between partners, with many girls being married off to much older men.
“Young widows, who were child brides, face great risk with little protection,” the UN official said.
If current child marriage rates continue, more than 140 million girls will become child brides between 2011 and 2020, according to UN Population Fund (UNFPA) figures.
The annual session 2013 of the Executive Board of UN-Women is due to start next week at the UN headquarters in New York.