A United Nations chronicler says that despite the fact that there are more than 258m widows around the world at the moment, widows have historically been left unseen, unsupported and unmeasured in our societies. There are no databases or social security windows, budgeting exercises or non-governmental organisations specifically targeting widows; they usually target women generally.
There are factors that make observing this day different from previous years, though this is not strongly so for Tanzania as we tend to see the Covid-19 pandemic in the past, and even appeals for taking the vaccine are directed at travelers. It isn’t so all over the world, as New Delhi television was reporting on Sunday evening that slightly over 1,500 deaths from Covid-19 were reported in the Delhi agglomeration alone, during the previous 24 hours. We are not readily forthcoming with the data, but the pandemic has declined, which also means we don’t have a situation where new widows are being created by the disease.
Globally, one of the worst causes of early widowhood is armed conflicts, accompanied by displacement and migration, beefed up by the pandemic in many countries. These situations leave tens of thousands of women newly widowed, staring into the unique experiences and needs of widows, which must be brought to the forefront, and where possible, their voices contribute to building such consensus. The key issues are firstly the way widows are denied inheritance rights, especially in situations where only customary law is followed and there are few other means of redress. Courts are out of the matter save for urban properties.
In many cultural environments, widows can face extreme stigma and discrimination, a situation that was intensified by the HIV-AIDS pandemic earlier, with such widows perceived as ‘carriers’ of disease. The UN chronicler says that worldwide, women are much less likely to have access to old age pensions, as fewer of them are found in paid employment, a career that spans one’s working age until retirement. In that case the death of a spouse can lead to destitution for older women, while desertion of a spouse is a substantial factor in the poverty of middle aged and older women. No reliable defences exist on desertion.
Observing the International Day of Widows, where it will actually be done, is conducted to raise awareness and personal commitment, so that an individual who is in a capacity to influence the individual or collective lot of widows should feel duty bound to do something. Some online entries make reference to international conventions on the issue, but the only effective ones relate to rights of children and to an extent, the rights of women. Customs govern what societies do about widows; daybreak isn’t yet in sight.