Maltreatment of Widows

Created January 2011    

 

Estimates indicate that 37% of the world’s population over age 60 is not married. The majority of these individuals are widowed. Older women are far more likely to be unmarried than their male counterparts. Studies show that 52% of women and 20% of men over age 60 are unmarried. In the least-developed countries, this disparity is even greater, with 59% of women and 16% of men being unmarried. From World Population Ageing 2009United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division. In nations significantly impacted by HIV/AIDS and armed conflict, widowhood rates are even higher. From Widowhood: Invisible Women, Secluded or Excluded, Women 2000 and Beyond, Division for the Advancement of Women, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

 

Widows constitute a uniquely vulnerable segment of the population and are often subject to maltreatment. In general, widows in developing countries are subject to more discrimination than are those in the developed world. Discrimination ranges from violations of inheritance rights to harmful practices such as widow cleansing and forced marriage. Furthermore, upon being widowed, the combined effects of these various forms of discrimination leaves many widows more vulnerable to trafficking, sexual assault, and domestic violence. From Widowhood: Invisible Women, Secluded or Excluded, Women 2000 and Beyond, Division for the Advancement of Women, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

 

Currently, there is no international law specifically directed at the protection of widows. However, a variety of laws providing for more general protections from maltreatment are relevant to the conditions of widowhood. The UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women recognizes “that violence against women is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women, which have led to domination over and discrimination against women by men and to the prevention of the full advancement of women, and that violence against women is one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared with men.” Violence against widows perpetuates a marginalized status for all women. Alternatively, upholding the rights of widows does much to advance the broader concept of women’s human rights.

 

Compiled from:

World Population Ageing 2009,

United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2009)

Widowhood: Invisible Women, Secluded or Excluded, Women 2000 and Beyond, Division for the Advancement of Women, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (2000)

Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, United Nations (1993)