Friday, June 29, 2018

The Epidemic of Widowhood

Widowhood is an emotional crisis that impacts seven to sixteen percent of the world’s population. It leads to social stigmatization, economic vulnerability, and humanitarian injustices. Most importantly it leads to invisibility. This invisibility explains the lack of empirical evidence surrounding this issue and the lackluster goals directed towards this issue in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). However, the far more comprehensive Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a platform to specifically target economic inequality, poverty, and inequitable education across countries, ages, and genders, unequal employment opportunities, and injustices. The SDG Fund gives organizations, governments, and other sectors of the functioning economy to collaborate together to create greater visibility that is so important to bring about change. As pointed out by Meera Khanna, writer, poet, voluntary social activist, and Vice President of the Guild of Service in India, in order to encourage our governments to create change we must shift the definition of this issue away from the Pandora’s box of social and cultural problems, and to the economic and human rights issues that can be impacted legally through governmental policy making processes. Kristin Hetle, Director of Strategic Partnerships with the UN Women, believes through the correct use and implementation of the sustainable development goals, we can hold our governments and leaders accountable for their actions and the impacts on the social community. 

Identifying the most tangible element of this issue provides the perfect vantage point or locus for change. According to Heather Ibrahim-Leathers, co-founder of the Global Fund for Widows, and supported by all of the panelists at this conference Widowhood: An Economic, Social, and Humanitarian Crisis, “economic empowerment is our solution to sustainable development.” 

Ibrahim-Leathers clearly explains the cyclical nature of this issue that has created an epidemic of poverty. Identified as the epidemic of widowhood and closely tied to cultural stigmatization across culture, this cycle begins with the death of the husband leading to widowhood. Upon his death, the woman loses all household income and, due to social cultural barriers, fear, or shame, she is bereft of her right to claim her husband’s estate. Her economic vulnerability only heightens the social stigmatization attached to the event of widowhood and she is ostracized from society and often blamed for her husband’s death. She is no longer an important part of society. Her opinion is of no consequence and her social standing is displaced, gone. Her social exclusion and lack of skills due to fewer educational opportunities as a woman combined with her continued responsibilities towards her children provides her with minimal economic opportunities and she becomes dependent on others for her livelihood because she does not have enough for proper means of survival. Soon, she may be forced to surrender her children to orphanages, streets, or human traffickers. These children become the lost generation—the generation of children who are no longer a part of functioning society, are stripped of all hope, and lack opportunities for success. As agreed on by Margaret Owen, a barrister specializing in human rights and a major activist renowned for her contributions to the cause of widowhood, with this ensues a cross generational and cyclical phenomenon of poverty, propelled by cultural disempowerment and cultural stigmas. Widowhood is the root cause of poverty across generations.


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