Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Economic Impact of Widowhood

 The social symptoms of widowhood, in combination with the overarching disempowerment of women from birth, leads to economic instability for widows. The widows with children further feel the impacts of disempowerment as resources required to sustain their families become scarce. Ibrahim-Leathers stresses that economic empowerment of women by helping them realize their potential and by providing them with a small source of capital to put their goals into gear can effectively help combat the social and humanitarian issues that arise from widowhood. The economic crisis sits squarely in between the social crisis that is an element of causation and the humanitarian crisis that emerges as a result of the economic vulnerability as pointed out by Khanna. “Cultural and social discrimination of widows is directly proportional to their economic vulnerability.” This direct proportionality is greater in patriarchal societies due to heightened economic vulnerability caused by structural inequalities in these societies, such as skewed patriarchal inheritance laws that leave widows economically dependent on others or incapable of supporting their own families due to the lack of resources or opportunities.  

In 2015, the Global Fund for Widows surveyed widows in Egypt, who make up a staggering thirty-six percent of the female population living at or below the poverty line. Fifty-three percent of these widows are under the age of 39, with children, and they only receive $1.20 from their government to feed their family. Fifty-three percent of these women have no source of income, but large burdens of debt that leaves them vulnerable, and eighty-two percent of these women want to start their own business, but lack the necessary capital to do so. Due to their inability to become economically independent as a result of social exclusion, absence of familial support, or lack of education, they become victims of violence and humanitarian injustices.  

Economic empowerment through training, social skills, and capital to pursue a path of financial stability creates change and transforms their lives. This conclusion was shared across the panel of speakers at this CSW event. The Global Fund for Widows provided 6,400 widows training in essential skills and a small amount of capital. The results of these measures exemplify the conclusion that economic empowerment of widows is a critical factor in achieving the sustainable development goals by 2030. Seventy-eight percent of widows experienced an increase in their household income by double or even triple percentage digits. Seventy-five percent were able to establish savings. Nine-five percent became economically independent. Ninety-four percent achieved higher social status. Ninety-three percent felt confident to reclaim their legal rights that should have been granted to them after the death of their significant other. And overall, exposure to domestic violence decreased. These women have an independent voice in their communities and in the whole of society due to their increased knowledge and their economic independence and SDGs 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 10, and 11 were successfully achieved.  

As stated by Zarin Hainsworth, Chair of National Women’s Association in the UK and representative from Widows Rights International, economic vulnerability exacerbates social and cultural stigmatism. Recalling the points made by Khanna about the direct relationship between economic dependence and cultural stigmatization, as economic vulnerability is combatted with economic empowerment and related resources such as capital and education, social and cultural stigmatization is also etched out of the lives of widows. Further, if economic empowerment does indeed underscore social, cultural stigmatization, it is pragmatic to begin change with the most vulnerable of populations—“with the last woman first.” In patriarchal societies, women are stigmatized based on their relationship or lack thereof with a man. Thereby, single women in those societies are in fact the last women in line. The further stigmas attached to widows puts them at the very end of this spectrum. Therefore, it makes economic sense to empower the most vulnerable population—widows—first if we want to achieve a major part of the sustainable development goals. To do so, we must help create visibility to this real issue that is the epidemic of widowhood.  

 Hainsworth suggests that widow organizations work together to find data, push legislation, and support the economic empowerment of women. The statistics available and readily collected by organizations and governments are not complete and thereby are not fully representative of this massive issue. In some instances, women fear speaking out and feel ashamed of their widowhood status, which is closely attributed to the early disempowerment of widows. In other instances, a census has simply not been conducted in over a decade resulting in a massive amount of undocumented widows. The veil of invisibility must be lifted. As Khanna stated, “we must push our governments on SDG 5 (achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls) linked with SDG 1 (end poverty in all it’s forms everywhere), while encouraging that single women households are put squarely on the discourse of poverty eradication.” Actions taken by the government to combat this root cause of poverty would increase the effectiveness of social programs and signify the changing of cultural stigmatization.



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