Secretary-General’s Message for 2012
Women can be exposed to extensive vulnerabilities when their husbands pass away. Far too many widows are shut out of any inheritance, land tenure, livelihood, social safety net, health care or education. Their children must cope not only with grief at the loss of their father, but also their own sudden loss of status and benefits in society.
At the same time, it is important to recognize the strengths and contributions of the world’s widows, who raise families, run companies and even head governments and States. Our challenge is to optimize this potential by removing discriminatory laws, policies and practices that impede widows from enjoying the dignity and equality they deserve.
Discrimination can take many forms. Widows are sometimes required to conduct their business through male guardians. Widows may be cast out from their communities, forced into marriage or physically abused with impunity. Their children are more likely to drop out of school and become trapped in intergenerational poverty.
I am especially concerned about the plight of widows in situations of conflict and natural disasters. At such times of violence and upheaval, many relatively young women find themselves suddenly widowed and victimized. We should do more than protect them; we should ensure they have the opportunity to participate in decisions on humanitarian relief and peacebuilding so they can help build a better future.
On this International Widows’ Day, let us resolve to end all discrimination against the world’s widows, and to enable them to enjoy their full human rights. The benefits will extend to their children, communities and society as a whole.