Picture taken by Fatima Martin Sanchez in the Arusha region, Tanzania

There are 300 million widows and 500 million of their children worldwide, and yet they remain disregarded within policy agendas, national action plans and the social discourse. When a woman becomes a widow, she is labeled with a strong cultural bias both as a woman and widow, and so she becomes subject to a dual form of marginalization. 

This nurtures three main forms of inequalities; disinheritance, discrimination and harmful traditional practices, such as widowhood rites and sexual cleansing rituals. The legal, economic and social barriers that many widows around the world endure often lead to financial deprivation, making them unable to cover their basic needs such as education, access to healthcare or reliable food. As a result, they succumb to multigenerational poverty cycles, which often lead to child marriage or extremist recruitment as the only perceived economic alternative.

Because of neglecting financial opportunities to a significant part of the workforce, the entire community is affected, decelerating economic development and enhancing long-term, multigenerational poverty levels. This issue is largely preventable. By providing widows with the necessary tools to start their own businesses and protect their personal rights they can raise above poverty, improving their local economies and the national GDP.  When equipped with business skills and resources, widows can achieve financial independence, driving economic development, creating jobs, and supporting local businesses and services.

Other key solutions to address the multifaceted challenges that widows face include recognizing and registering all types of marriages, including customary and religious ones – while eliminating child, early and forced marriage-, to ensure that all widows’ have access their rightful inheritance, marital property and adequate social protection systems. To do so, governments and local communities must eliminate legal barriers and discriminatory practices that hinder widows’ land ownership.

To prevent economic and legal rights violations, it is crucial that governments and communities educate all women on their rights and protections. This empowers them to recognize and address instances of discrimination, exploitation, or abuse. Without this foundational knowledge, women are more vulnerable to violations and less able to seek redress or support.

Picture taken by Alex Kiogara in Meru, Kenya

However, financial and legal literacy is not easy to achieve. This is presented in the story of a Maasai widow from rural Tanzania, who was married of as a gift to her father´s friend´s son. When her husband died, the men in her village seized her rightful land and remaining assets, leaving her bereft with three children to support. 

“Men will always support one another.” Said the widow in an interview. “Women have to fight for what is rightfully theirs. But few women even know their rights. They are stuck believing that that is how they deserve to be treated, but it isn´t”

Several years later, she joined the WISALA (Widows’ Savings and Loan Association), an innovative microbank model specifically created by the Global Fund for Widows to serve widows. It provides legal and economic preparation so that widows can start or expand their business, thus becoming economically and legally independent. With it, she was able to expand her agricultural fields and become a successful businesswoman by growing maize and beans. Currently, she can cover the educational expenses of all her children and grandchildren, health needs and reliable food.

Another inspiring story is that of a tenacious widow from Gichocho village in Meru County, Kenya. Following the loss of her spouse, she found herself constrained by societal norms that prohibited women from working or owning property. Lacking the expertise to start her own business and with limited resources at her disposal, her prospects appeared bleak.

After joining WISALA, she gained the knowledge and support necessary to transform her life. Currently, she is a successful businesswoman, producing 30 liters of milk per day. Her  achievement has significantly improved the food security and nutrition of both her household and her community.

These remarkable turnarounds underscore the critical role that education, support, and financial resources play in empowering widows and their communities. It is imperative that we all work together towards a world where every widow can thrive.

“At the Global Fund for Widows, our goal is to help widows become empowered to address the educational, nutritional, health and wellness of themselves and their families. Ultimately, we want widows to live fulfilled and joyful lives” – Heather Ibrahim-Leathers, president and founder of Global Fund for Widows

To do so, raising visibility, awareness and engagement on the challenges faced by widows are key components in achieving more equitable and sustainable societies. Let us not forget and continue fighting for the often-overlooked pillars of gender equality: widows.

 By Fatima Martin Sanchez, Program Assistant, Global Fund for Widows

#WidowEmpowerment #GenderEqualityMatters #EqualRightsForWidows

Fatima Martin Sanchez

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