Rural Widowhood: Culture, Covid, Conflicts & Climate Crisis
Date: March 17, 2023
Rural Widowhood: Culture, Covid, Conflicts & Climate Crisis
WPD Statement on Rural Widows – #CSW67
WPD STATEMENT ON RURAL WIDOWS ~ WPD Event CSW67: Rural Widowhood: Culture, Covid, Conflicts and climate Crisis
Widows for Peace through Democracy (WPD), representing rural widows of all ages, recognises that technological innovation and digital technology are critical for achieving global food security, building resilience to climate change and increased productivity.
The devastating reality of vaccine inequality, compounded by COVID-19 impacts, food, water and income insecurity is a critical threat to those in rural communities, made worse by escalating climate and environmental crisis, interrupted supply chains, conflict, fuel crisis, and the international escalation in the cost of living. Rural widows, too often neglected and often living in extreme poverty, are some of the most affected people and yet remain ‘invisible’ to policy makers and outside the protection of the legislative process.
Rural widows play essential roles in global food systems, from raising crops and processing harvests, to distribution and food preparation, nourishing their families and their communities – as well as the wider world.
Discriminatory gender norms and power imbalances often position rural widows as last to eat, and with least. The responsibility for unpaid care and domestic work also rests with widows and their daughters, driving further disparity.
Rural Widows, in particular, are susceptible to violence, due to continued practice of Harmful Traditional Practices – widowhood rites that violate human rights of widows, forced marriage and deprive widows of inheritance – of land, money and goods. Widows in rural areas face challenges to access information and legal support, are deprived of their economic, social and civil rights and are stigmatised and shamed by being widows.
Already impoverished due to gender, location, poor access to essential services and lack of social protection, widows are further marginalised and abused by traditional harmful widow practices. Shunned within communities and ignored by the global community, much of their labour and effort remains unrecognised and ignored and they disproportionately bear the consequences of poverty, exclusion, human rights violations and climate change crisis.
Access and use of digital technology can enable the securing of land rights and rights in general for rural widows.Securing land tenure for widows is not only critical for good land governance but it enhances access to other productive resources such as water rights. Digital technology can accelerate documentation of land holdings by widows, facilitate better administration and management of land information and improve land use through proper land use plans. Importantly, access to digital technology can empower widows to be aware of their rights in general.
Furthermore, rural widows – including young widows, with training and access to technology can enable access to social protection, legal aid, education and training.
Indigenous widows are often the custodians of traditional knowledge and are vital for achieving food security and safeguarding our land and water. Inclusion of Indigenous widows in programmes to improve access to technology is crucial and this must be done with full participation of community leaders.
The greatest barrier standing in the way of progress is governments who choose to ignore the reality of life for rural widows.
We welcome the inclusion of text that highlights the need for geographical location to be considered when assessing women’s and rural widows’ human rights. All too often widows in rural communities furthest from administrative centres are often also those furthest from participation in decision-making, particularly in conflicts, post-conflict areas, and all too frequently in humanitarian emergencies.
WPD Recommendations Regarding Rural Widows
WPD urgently calls upon politicians, leaders, legislators, decision makers and policy makers to bring rural marginalised widows, half-widows and single women out of the shadows and:
- Consult with rural widows of all ages, rural widow advocates and rural widow human rights defenders and ensure their participation in decision making that affects their interests;
- Address patriarchal social norms and stereotypes that fuel gender-based violence, sexual violence and discrimination towards rural widows of all ages;
- Ensure rural widows have access to education, digital technology, training, employment, medical care and support services including access to proper registration of widowhood, death certificates of husbands, access to social protection;
- Create programs of assistance for rural widows including school and public educational programmes to eradicate stigma and discrimination to break cycles and cultures of victimisation and disempowerment of widows and half-widows of all ages;
- Legislate against violence, discrimination and exclusion of rural widows and ensure widows can inherit property and land. Ensure laws are rigorously enforced with widow-aware training to legislators, politicians, municipal council officials and police forces.
Three key actions applicable to all relevant policy makers, legislators, civil servants, aid workers, donors, grant makers, local activists, judiciary and police forces:
- Data gathering: without proper rural widow-aware data widows and other marginalised women are effectively invisible to politicians, analysts, statisticians, policy makers and legislators. The status of widows must be included in census and civil records. Data on widows must be gathered and must include region, marital status, age, numbers, ages of widows and their children.
- Assessment of need: assessment of need is vital alongside recognition of the actual roles of rural widows and half-widows in building survivorship and resilience. Assessments are also hampered by lack of capacity especially in conflict or post-conflict settings where rural widows may be homeless, undocumented, possibly illiterate and moving between refugee and IDP camps. Conventional survey methods are not always suitable; the voices and experiences of widows must be sought out and given prominence. It is important to look at alternative data collection methods – and there is a vital role here for NGOs to fill this knowledge gap.
- Widow-aware/sensitive gender training must be mandatory which includes knowledge of rural widows/widowhood for all policy makers, data analysts, civil servants, aid workers, donors, grant makers, judiciary and police.
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