Marking International Widows’ Day, Ban urges end to harmful practices, abuse against women

Ivorian widows run a small restaurant in Yopougon with the help of the non-governmental organization, Les Compagnes de Ruth. UN Photo/Ky Chung

23 June 2014 – No woman should lose her status, livelihood or property when her husband dies, yet millions of widows in our world face persistent abuse, discrimination, disinheritance and destitution stressed United Nation Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today in his message for this year’s International Widows’ Day.

In his message, the Secretary-General expressed his concerns about the number of widows subjected to harmful practices, including "widow cleansing", often involving the rape, and the increase in the widow’s risk of HIV infection, as well as "widow burning".

Mr. Ban underscored that such violent acts could also negatively affect the lives of their children. He has stressed the need for “stronger action to empower women, promote gender equality and end all forms of violence against women.”

The UN General Assembly declared 23 June 2011 as the first-ever International Widows’ Day, and has been marked annually ever since. The Day raises awareness and is an opportunity for action towards achieving full rights and recognition for widows worldwide and to bring the often invisible issues affecting them to a point of international concern.

In many cultures widows not only are considered inferior to their husbands, but they also become "useless" at the moment of their husband’s death. Their social status appears to be inextricably linked to their husband’s, and when he dies, a woman is likely to lose her place in society, lose basic rights, and to become a victim of life-threatening abuses.

Millions of the world’s widows have to cope with poverty, ostracism, violence, homelessness, ill- health and different forms of discrimination, which could dramatically impact their physical and mental well-being.

“It is our collective responsibility to safeguard the human rights and dignity of widows, in line with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child” stressed the UN chief.

“Together, we can eliminate the challenges faced by widows around the world and allow them to realize their potential as equal members of society” he concluded.


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