Widows History

The global widows' estimate stands at about 245million as of 2010 (Loomba Report).  The same report indicates that in 2015, there were 22,153,905 widows in Sub-Saharan Africa.  Their children numbered 112,984,916 in the same year. These numbers are staggering.

Widows and their children form an unfortunate block of the world's most disadvantaged and discriminated groups and they continue to face increased challenges as a result of epidemics, war, economic collapse and stagnation. The 2015 Global Widows Report notes that widows' deprivation has been consistently and comprehensively ignored, despite the fact that the conditions many of them are forced to live in, qualify as a humanitarian emergency and as significant human rights violations.

Widows face extreme poverty, starvation, rape, HIV/AIDS, armed conflict, seizure of their homes and possessions as well as social exclusion.  Despite this, they have remained invisible to the public and policy makers. Their children often have to endure extreme poverty, child labour, prostitution or forced labour or are used as bargaining chips to guarantee widows of their economic assets and rights. Collectively, and through no fault of their own, they have little hope of reversing a life of diminishing options. Whereas a small group of commendable researchers and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have sought to focus on the issue, with intermittent support from the United Nations, the lack of mainstream attention has meant that the issue has remained the radar of even the most pro-active governments.

Absence of widow desaggregated data is often scarce an therefore the true magnitude of widowed women’s and girls’ numbers and their problems remain unknown. In addition, high malemortality and child marriages are much higher in developing countries, occasioning the risk of girls and young women becoming widows. In Sub-Saharan Africa, widows form the last tier of adults left to manage communities decimated by HIV/AIDS.

Widowhood is therefore grief, pain and abandonment in most parts of the world. She becomes an outsider, ostracized and an object of ridicule. In short, her life deteriorates giving way to insecurity, fear and poverty. Her situation is compounded by the presence of children who she now has to counsel, reassure and bring up on her own.  Her status in marriage largely depends on the presence of the man. So, when her husband dies she faces multi-layered discrimination. This situation persists in most of the world and is simply known as dehumanization of women. 

Legal situation

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination (CEDAW) and which Kenya has ratified, defines discrimination against women as any distinction, exclusion or restrictions made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on the basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field. Clear as this definition is,  women's (and widows') rights continue to be violated in the name of traditions, cultural and social norms. 

In Kenya, the Constitution in the Bill of Rights (Chapter Four) guarantees equality of the sexes and freedom from discrimination.  Article 2(24), protects women from harmful cultural practices, early marriages, widow cleansing, forced eviction, female genital mutilation, widow inheritance and dispossession of land. It allows ownership and protection of property by both sexes without discrimination.  Indeed the Kenya Parliament has put in place legislation to implement these Constitutional provisions for example, in the Marriage Act and the Matrimonial Property Act. But despite these clear provisions,  women's social and economic status continues to be defined by customary norms, rules and practices  in different communities.  A persistent patriarchal dominance has ensured that the country's governance structures continue to be male-dominated and resistant to a reality that tips the patriarchal balance - Affirmative Action provisions in the Constitution, notwithstanding.

The consequence of the above is that widows loses identity and due to poverty, children may drop out of school and in the case of girls, enter early marriages or street life, ruining her entire life.  Boy children may enter street life and get lost in substance abuse  and crime.  The challenges are many.