21 June 2021

Human Rights Should Not Be Contingent on Marital Status, Secretary-General Stresses, in Message for International Widows’ Day

Following is UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ message for International Widows’ Day, observed on 23 June:

For many widows, losing their husband also means losing identity, land rights, property, income, and possibly their children.  Their physical safety is at greater risk, just when they may be suffering serious emotional trauma.

Human rights, including the right to inherit and own property, should not be contingent on marital status.  Inheritance laws and social safety nets should ensure that widows are protected and secure.

The COVID-19 pandemic has both increased the number of widows globally and exacerbated many of the challenges they face, including access to bank accounts and pensions.  As Governments provide economic and social support in response to the pandemic, they must consider the world’s 250 million widows.  Even before the pandemic hit, nearly 1 in 10 widows lived in extreme poverty.

Social assistance, including cash transfers and pensions, can help support widows who are often left to take full responsibility for their families.  Governments should make special efforts to ensure these measures reach women with low visibility; for example, those without identity cards or bank accounts.

I urge every country, as a critical element of my Call to Action on Human Rights, to pass and implement legislation and policies that promote gender equality, and to repeal all discriminatory laws that perpetuate women’s subjugation and exclusion.  The persecution and disinheritance of widows, by law and custom, is one of the worst examples of gender discrimination.

On International Widows’ Day, let’s commit to making sure all widows occupy a respected place in our societies, with access to legal and social protection, so they can live their lives in peace and reach their full potential.

For information media. Not an official record.