Widows are our mothers, sisters, daughters, aunts and grandmothers. They form a significant proportion of our society. In Africa, one in 10 women over 14 is widowed, with almost 12 per cent of marital age females in Kenya widows.
Widows are subject to the most human rights violations. In Sub-Saharan Africa, one in three widows experience violence and discrimination—from violation of their inheritance rights to harmful traditional practices such as widowhood cleansing and forced marriage euphemised as “wife inheritance”.
They are also more vulnerable to trafficking, sexual assault, domestic violence, extreme poverty, homelessness and social and development exclusion.
These practices are not only emotionally and psychologically harmful but also put widows at risk of HIV/Aids and mental ill-health. They thrive due to ‘cultural’ and ‘traditional’ justifications and absence of legal frameworks for protection of widows.
Upholding widows’ rights is advancing the broader women’s rights and gender equality agenda. The 2022 UN General Assembly resolution on “Addressing the Situation of Widows” was the first on widowhood by consensus in which Kenya is a signatory.
The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence on Women and Girls, themed “Unite! Invest to prevent violence against women and girls”, is a call to implement national laws, especially to protect the property and inheritance rights of widows.
The Ministry of Public Service, Gender and Affirmative Action must collaborate with the Judiciary and respond to the needs of widows while national policies, guidelines and programmes integrate them in the development of plans and strategies for economic growth and national development.
Widows are resourceful and powerful actors and their inclusion for full, equal and meaningful participation in social transformation contributes to the national economic and social development.
- Ms Odhiambo is a youth and communications manager at Nyanam Widows Rising. [email protected].