Thursday, July 5, 2018

Humanitarian Impact of Widowhood

The economic vulnerability of widows, if not solved, makes them more vulnerable to humanitarian injustices coming from both within and outside of the community in which they preside. Dr. Eleanor Ann Nwadinobi, manager at the Nigeria Stability and Reconciliation Program, and Hanaa Edwar, Iraqi Women’s Network, spoke extensively on these subjects at this conference.  

The humanitarian injustices today are exacerbated in regions of the world where Boko Haram continues to abduct women and men and ISIS continues to commit war crimes. During Nwadinobi’s trip to Northeast Nigeria, she discovered much of the reality of life there. When Boko Haram began their abductions, they would throw $10 in the compound. This exchange of dowry signified a contractual marriage. With the passage of time, the insurgents stopped paying this dowry as well. April 14th signifies two years since Boko Haram insurgents abducted 200 young girls from their homes. These girls have not been found to date. However, these insurgents have existed for far longer, having originated in 2002 and their atrocities were not limited to the abduction of these 200 girls. As Nigeria has begun to win the war on insurgency, the girls who were forcefully abducted and married to the insurgents now return to their communities as widows. The reaction from families is mixed, as is the level of stigmatization from family and society. Some families want their daughters back, even as widows, while others ostracize and stigmatize them due to their now “tainted” nature and do not want anything to do with them. 

Due to their young abduction forced marriage, young widowhood, and therefore cultural and social exclusion, there is an emerging issue in Nigeria. The country has seen an increase in the number of female suicide bombers—most the young victims of Boko Haram. Organizations within Nigeria have been trying to determine whether this emergence is the results of turned violent extremism, depression and lost will to live, or coercion by Boko Haram insurgents. This increase in female insurgents has resulted in a greater skepticism of these widows that have emerged from traumatic situations and continue to face struggles. This makes it harder for them to transition back into society, reduces their opportunity to continue their education, and minimizes their chances for future economic empowerment. Social exclusion resulting from humanitarian injustices in this situation leads to economic vulnerability and thereby exacerbates stigmatism and likelihood of continued poverty. 

In regions such as Iraq, as addressed by Edwar, the emergence of ISIS has resulted in a more internal level of perpetuating humanitarian crises. The rise of ISIS has significantly increased widowhood since 2012. For perspective, there has been a sixty-three percent increase in documented widows since 2003, largely attributed to the last four years that ISIS has raged conflict and war in the region. There are currently 2 million widows in Iraq that have been accounted for and that statistic continues to rise each day. Of these widows, seventy-five percent are illiterate and fifty-six percent come from poor families. The economic disempowerment decreases their opportunities to achieve the skillset required to become economically independent and empowered to emerge from their poverty. Approximately fifty-five percent of illiterate or skill-less widows in Iraq are below the age of 35. Their young age leads to an earlier social death and isolation upon widowhood and many of these women are forced to re-marry. Remarriage is often kept within the family as to not lose control of the assets. It is shrouded in the misconception or cultural belief that the widow must cleanse herself of the murder of her husband in this manner. Furthermore, a majority of these widows are also mothers—twenty-four percent have children younger than 3 years old, fifty-nine percent have children between the ages of 3 and 5, and thirty-seven percent have children over the age of 5. The social benefits provided by the Iraqi government to support their family only totals to about $40 to $95 per month, an amount not enough to even cover basic monthly expenses. The past two years, organizations in Iraq have been fighting for legislation on social security for these widows.   


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