Statement by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, for International Widows’ Day, June 23, 2018
In many countries around the world, a woman who learns that she has lost her husband knows that the years ahead of her will involve two struggles: in addition to overcoming her grief, she has to provide for herself and her family while surmounting enormous social and economic challenges. Rama Shahi from Dharmasthali, Nepal knows this all too well. In 2015, Rama lost her husband in the Nepal earthquake. Following her husband’s death, his family insisted that they inherit his property, denying Rama her legal rights to remain in her home. Because she had no access to legal support, Rama had to start again from scratch at age 46.
On the occasion of International Widows’ Day, we must consider both the vital role widows play in our society, the ways in which gender inequality impacts their ability to thrive on their own, and the specific recognition and attention that they need from all of us. Of the 258 million widows worldwide, nearly one in ten live in extremely poor households . Where social and legal protection systems discriminate against women, widowed women’s lifetime earnings and savings are restricted. Women are less likely than men to receive a pension in old age, and even in countries with good pension coverage, women are significantly more likely to suffer poverty in old age than men.
In one in five countries with available data, female surviving spouses like Rama Shahi do not have the same inheritance rights as their male counterparts. Yet even where the laws are responsive to women’s rights, there is often greater effort needed to ensure that women know their rights and are able to enforce them.
When widows with young children lose property, income and other assets—especially in the absence of support for unpaid care work—they may be forced to take their daughters out of school to work or help take care of siblings and housework. This is how gender inequality perpetuates itself, continuing the cycle of disadvantage for girls and women for decades to come.
It isn’t just middle-aged or older women who struggle. Widowed women are represented across the age spectrum, for example, as a result of the high male mortality rates in countries in conflict, or where there are high rates of child marriage. However, there is a troubling lack of data on the particular experiences of different groups of widows. Prevalence surveys on violence against women, for example, often refer only to women of reproductive age (15-49), and therefore fail to capture violence and abuse of older widows. Without data, policymakers cannot design truly responsive interventions, and women who are at a point in their lives when they most need support are left out and left behind.
To protect and empower women like Rama, it is important that governments address barriers to information, and to justice. In addition to laws that discriminate against widowed women, in many countries they face marginalization as a result of social stigma, which means that legal changes must be accompanied by plans to tackle the norms that have long justified discriminatory practices. Women must have access to legal aid and support, and their political, community and religious leaders must be included in reform processes.
On this International Widows’ Day, let us remember that widows are heroes, working hard to keep families, communities, and societies together following the loss of their spouses. As societies we owe it to the widows of the world to give them the respect, visibility and unique support they need.
 Analysis by Loomba Foundation, The Global Widows Report 2015. London. Based on compilation of UNSD (United Nations Statistics Division) population data and additional individual country census and population survey data.
Crises are lasting longer, solutions need long-term strategies to empower women and girl refugees
Right now, nearly 66 million people around the world are displaced from their homes due to conflict, persecution and natural disasters.
We need to break away from traditional response strategies that are no longer adequate to support the reality facing refugees today. The average length of displacement is now 17 years or more, which means that those affected will spend a significant portion of their lives as refugees. This must shift our understanding of requirements and solutions from those of peoples on the move, to those of non-movement.
We must therefore look beyond immediate assistance and offer viable long-term solutions that protect women’s and girls’ rights, provide opportunities for growth, engagement and gainful employment, and maintain their dignity throughout the displacement cycle. Women and girls must be able to be self-reliant and to build a future of their own choosing. This benefits the individual women themselves, as well as their families, communities and host countries.
The women and girls who make up approximately half of those currently displaced experience both discrimination and violence. With the breakdown of protection mechanisms and the destruction of essential services and economic structures, their already marginalised position deteriorates further when they lack access to and control of resources, and when there are no further viable coping strategies.
Many refugee response strategies still neglect the capacity of women and girls to contribute to the delivery of critical information, services and long-term solutions themselves, their families and their wider communities, despite wide recognition that crises impact women and men differently.
UN Women works with refugee populations across the globe to provide solutions. For example, in Bangladesh, UN Women has formed a Rohingya women’s group that now actively takes part in official camp management meetings and ensures the needs of women and girls are given due consideration. In Jordan, Syrian refugee women participate in cash for work initiatives that provide an opportunity for more permanent employment or starting up microbusinesses in camp settings. And in Cameroon, UN Women provides refugee women and girls with resources and skills training to develop small-scale income-generating activities.
Currently underway is a global compact on refugees to ensure that all refugee response programmes worldwide deliver on the comprehensive commitments on the rights and needs of women and girls made in the 2016 New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants.
On World Refugee Day, UN Women calls on the global community to ensure that the global compact on refugees provides the services, protection and resources that all refugees need, addressing the rights of all. Only by recognizing and promoting the contribution that women and girls can make to the refugee response, including through their leadership and equal participation, will we see delivery of more effective and durable solutions for all.Read more »
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares that all people, without exception, are entitled to protection of their human rights, and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Developmentplaces strong emphasis on the concepts of non-discrimination, universality and leaving no one behind. These principles apply to all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics. Yet, around the world, persons of diverse sex, sexual orientation and gender identity continue to face discrimination, a proliferation in hate speech, including on social media, and acts of violence that too often go unpunished.
The fight against homophobia, transphobia and biphobia is, at its heart, a fight against exclusion. When people are left out, they can get left behind. We begin to see gaps—in wages, in economic and social opportunities, and in access to leadership and decision-making positions. When people are excluded they are more vulnerable to violence and discrimination. When people do not fall neatly into a predetermined category, there is a risk of their being disregarded entirely.
That is why on this International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, our focus must be strongly on inclusion. That means advocating for change in ways that acknowledge the intersections between multiple forms of discrimination. The challenges that LGBTI people continue to face across the world cannot be separated from the struggles that they have to endure also, as indigenous people, as people living in poverty, as people with disabilities, as younger or older people, as people of insecure or undocumented immigration status, as refugees or internally-displaced persons, or as people of colour.
Inclusion means not being bound by binary definitions of gender, but recognizing all forms of gender identity and expression. Transgender people, those with non-binary gender identities and gender non-conforming people must be acknowledged and afforded the same consideration and access to rights as anyone else. Inclusivity is fundamental to our work; and strengthens the collective goals of both the women’s rights and LGBTI rights movements.
For the United Nations, inclusion must start at home, by strengthening recognition and protection for LGBTI staff and their dependents within the UN system. At UN Women, we are working to implement the UN-GLOBE recommendations for ensuring an inclusive workforce for trans and gender non-conforming staff members and stakeholders in the UN system. We are also pressing for the application of these rights across society more broadly, including through the UN’s Free & Equal Campaign, in UN Women’s close partnership with civil society and in our support for movement-building, in order to deepen awareness of the discrimination and violence faced by LGBTI individuals and the steps that we can take to end it.
UN Women calls for an end to exclusion, and demands equal rights for all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender expression. Today we celebrate diversity, inclusion and intersectionality, so that no one is left behind and every person enjoys the right to live as their true self.Read more »
Leave no woman behind.
This week, UN Women National Committee Australia is hosting the largest event series around the country to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8th.
The events held in six capital cities around Australia spanning the next four days will bring together over 8,000 people to celebrate the achievements of women and reflect on the progress we have made as well as highlight the work that still needs to be done.
“Still today, women are locked out of decision-making tables all around the world: less than a quarter of parliamentarians are women. Poverty is rife: women and girls make up more than 80% of people living on under $2 a day in Asia and the Pacific. When disaster and crisis strike, women and girls are often left behind in planning and response efforts, leading to poor outcomes for everyone.” says Janelle Weissman, Executive Director of UN Women National Committee (NC) Australia.
The International Women’s Day events for 2018 with the theme ‘Leave No Woman Behind’, will kick off in Brisbane Tuesday 6 March and will put the focus on the impacts disaster and crisis have on women and girls and highlight the vital role women play in planning and response efforts.
“All too often, it is the women who are left behind in times of conflict, disaster or other crisis. Disasters kill more women than men, and hit women’s livelihoods hardest. Trafficking, child marriage, and all other forms of violence against women and girls increase.” said Ms Weissman.
Women have important resources and talents to contribute to planning for and responding to disasters and conflict. Women play a vital role as leaders, given their wealth of knowledge and connections to family and community and are well placed to help protect and empower other women and girls so that they can survive and thrive. When women have a seat at decision making tables, the entire community benefits. UN Women works around the world to ensure that women are not merely vulnerable victims, but are agents of change.
Funds raised at the events will support programs working to ensure women are included in crisis and disaster planning and response efforts and to secure seats at the table during peace-making processes. Funds will also support those programs ensuring that the unique needs of women and girls are not forgotten, so that they are protected from gender-based violence in the midst of crisis and the wake of disaster.
Everyone can show their support for gender equality and women’s empowerment by purchasing and wearing a purple ribbon this International Women’s Day. Purple ribbons are available to buy now at Esprit stores throughout the country.
Executive Director of UN Women NC Australia, Janelle Weissman is available for comment.
UN Women NC Australia’s events will be held across Australia on the following dates
Brisbane Breakfast – Tuesday 6 March, Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre, 7:00am – 9:00am
Melbourne Breakfast – Wednesday 7 March, Melbourne Park Function Centre, 7:00am – 9:00am
Perth Breakfast – Thursday 8 March, Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre, 7:00am – 9:00am
Canberra Breakfast – Thursday 8 March, National Convention Centre Canberra, 12:00pm – 2:00pm
Sydney Breakfast – Friday 9 March, International Convention Centre Sydney, 7:00am – 9:00am
Adelaide Breakfast – Friday 9 March, Adelaide Convention Centre Adelaide, 7:00am – 9:00am
Media are welcome to attend.Read more »