August 18, 2022

Reporters’ Diary

Factual Reportage

Include 250m widows in social assistance, UN chief pleads with countries

David Oladimeji

UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, has urged countries to consider the world’s 250 million widows in their social assistance programme to alleviate their suffering.

Guterres made the appeal in his message to mark the International Widows’ Day, celebrated annually on June 23, to draw attentions to the plight of widows.

According to him, 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 one 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.’’

The secretary-general also urged 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.

He therefore called all every country to 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.

“Let us be committed to make sure all widows occupy a respected place with access to legal and social protection, so they can live their lives in peace and reach their full potential,’’ the secretary-general said.

Guterres said for many widows, losing their husband also meant losing identity, land rights, property, income, and possibly their children.

He said their physical safety was at greater risk, just when they might 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 secretary-general said.