People's Stories Women's Rights

The world’s most dangerous countries for women 2018
by Thomson Reuters Foundation
India was named as the world''s most dangerous country for women in a survey by global experts this week.
The Thomson Reuters Foundation survey of about 550 experts on women''s issues ranked war-torn Afghanistan and Syria in second and third place, with Somalia and Saudi Arabia next.
The survey was a repeat of a similar poll in 2011 which ranked the most dangerous countries for women as Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan, India and Somalia.
It asked which five of the 193 United Nations member states were most dangerous for women and the worst for healthcare, economic resources, traditional practices, sexual and non-sexual abuse, and human trafficking.
Here is the list of the 10 countries ranked as the most dangerous for women by the survey, conducted between March 26 and May 4:
INDIA - Tops the list, with levels of violence against women still running high, more than five years after the rape and murder of a student on a bus in Delhi sparked national outrage and government pledges to tackle the issue. India ranked as the most dangerous on three issues – the risks women face from sexual violence and harassment, from cultural and traditional practices, and from human trafficking including forced labour, sex slavery and domestic servitude.
AFGHANISTAN - Second in the list, with experts saying women face dire problems nearly 17 years after the overthrow of the Taliban. Ranked as the most dangerous country for women in three areas – non-sexual violence, access to healthcare, and access to economic resources.
SYRIA - Third after seven years of civil war. Ranked as second most dangerous country for women in terms of access to healthcare and non-sexual violence, which includes conflict-related violence as well as domestic abuse. Joint third with the United States on the risks women face of sexual abuse.
SOMALIA - Fourth after being mired in conflict since 1991. Ranked as third most dangerous country for women in terms of access to healthcare and for putting them at risk of harmful cultural and traditional practices. Named as fifth worst in terms of women having access to economic resources.
SAUDI ARABIA - Overall fifth, but the conservative kingdom was named the second most dangerous country for women in terms of economic access and discrimination, including in the workplace and in terms of property rights. Fifth in terms of the risks women face from cultural and religious practices.
PAKISTAN - Sixth most dangerous and fourth worst in terms of economic resources and discrimination as well as the risks women face from cultural, religious and traditional practices, including so-called honour killings. Pakistan ranked fifth on non-sexual violence, including domestic abuse.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO - Listed as seventh with the United Nations warning millions of people face "hellish living conditions" after years of factional bloodshed and lawlessness. Ranked as second most dangerous country for women as regards sexual violence, and between seventh and ninth in four other questions.
YEMEN - Eighth in the list after ranking poorly on access to healthcare, economic resources, risk from cultural and traditional practices, and non-sexual violence. Yemen is still reeling from the world''s most urgent humanitarian crisis with 22 million people in need of vital assistance.
NIGERIA - Ranked as ninth, with human rights groups accusing the country''s military of torture, rape and killing civilians during a nine-year fight against Boko Haram militants. Nigeria was named fourth most dangerous country along with Russia when it came to human trafficking. It listed sixth worst on the risks women face from traditional practices.
UNITED STATES - The only Western nation in the top 10 and joint third with Syria for the risks women face in terms of sexual violence, including rape, sexual harassment, coercion into sex and a lack of access to justice in rape cases. The survey came after the #MeToo campaign went viral last year, with thousands of women using the social media movement to share stories of sexual harassment or abuse.

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Life after loss: Rights, dignity and justice for widows
by UN Women, Reuters, Loomba Foundation
June 2018
International Widows’ Day: Life after loss: Rights, dignity and justice for widows
The loss of a partner is devastating. For many women, that loss is magnified by a long-term struggle for basic needs, their human rights and dignity. They may be denied inheritance rights to the piece of land that they relied on for livelihood or evicted from their homes, forced into unwanted marriages or traumatizing widowhood rituals. They are stigmatized for life, shunned and shamed. And, many of these abuses go unnoticed, even normalized.
Right now, there are an estimated 258 million widows around the world, and nearly one in ten live in extreme poverty. As women, they have specific needs, but their voices and experiences are often absent from policies that impact their survival.
The United Nations observes 23 June as International Widows Day, to draw attention to the voices and experiences of widows and to galvanize the unique support that they need.
Today we bring you the voices of some widows we have worked with, as they push through the barriers in pursuit of a life with dignity, joy and aspirations.
International Widows’ Day, by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women
In many countries around the world, a woman who learns that she has lost her husband knows that the years ahead of her will involve two struggles: in addition to overcoming her grief, she has to provide for herself and her family while surmounting enormous social and economic challenges.
Rama Shahi from Dharmasthali, Nepal knows this all too well. In 2015, Rama lost her husband in the Nepal earthquake. Following her husband’s death, his family insisted that they inherit his property, denying Rama her legal rights to remain in her home. Because she had no access to legal support, Rama had to start again from scratch at age 46.
On the occasion of International Widows’ Day, we must consider both the vital role widows play in our society, the ways in which gender inequality impacts their ability to thrive on their own, and the specific recognition and attention that they need from all of us. Of the 258 million widows worldwide, at least one in ten live in extremely poor households. Where social and legal protection systems discriminate against women, widowed women’s lifetime earnings and savings are restricted.
Women are less likely than men to receive a pension in old age, and even in countries with good pension coverage, women are significantly more likely to suffer poverty in old age than men.
In one in five countries with available data, female surviving spouses like Rama Shahi do not have the same inheritance rights as their male counterparts. Yet even where the laws are responsive to women’s rights, there is often greater effort needed to ensure that women know their rights and are able to enforce them.
When widows with young children lose property, income and other assets—especially in the absence of support for unpaid care work; they may be forced to take their daughters out of school to work or help take care of siblings and housework. This is how gender inequality perpetuates itself, continuing the cycle of disadvantage for girls and women for decades to come.
It isn’t just middle-aged or older women who struggle. Widowed women are represented across the age spectrum, for example, as a result of the high male mortality rates in countries in conflict, or where there are high rates of child marriage.
To protect and empower women like Rama, it is important that governments address barriers to information, and to justice. In addition to laws that discriminate against widowed women, in many countries they face marginalization as a result of social stigma, which means that legal changes must be accompanied by plans to tackle the norms that have long justified discriminatory practices.
Women must have access to legal aid and support, and their political, community and religious leaders must be included in reform processes.
On this International Widows’ Day, let us remember that widows are heroes, working hard to keep families, communities, and societies together following the loss of their spouses. As societies we owe it to the widows of the world to give them the respect, visibility and unique support they need.
June 2018
Abused and destitute: Wars fuel rise in global number of widows, by Emma Batha. (Reuters)
Millions of widows worldwide suffer crushing poverty and persecution, their numbers swelled by a proliferation of conflicts from Syria to Myanmar. International Widows'' Day on June 23 aims to raise awareness of the often hidden injustices they face.
Many are robbed of their inheritance, while others are enslaved by in-laws, accused of witchcraft or forced into abusive sexual rituals.
Here are some facts:
Experts estimated there were 258.5 million widows globally in 2015, but say the number is likely to have risen. Deaths through conflict and disease contributed to a 9 percent increase in the number of widows between 2010 and 2015.
The biggest jump has been in the Middle East and North Africa, where the estimated number of widows rose 24 percent between 2010 and 2015, partly due to the Syrian war and other conflicts.
One in seven widows globally lives in extreme poverty. One in 10 women of marital age is widowed. The proportion is about one in five in Afghanistan and Ukraine.
A third of widows worldwide live in India or China. India, with an estimated 46 million widows in 2015, has overtaken China (44.6 million) to become the country with the largest number of widows.
Widow "cleansing" rituals in some sub-Saharan countries may require a widow to drink the water used to wash her dead husband''s body or to have sex with an in-law, village "cleanser" or stranger. Campaigners for widows'' rights say such rituals, which are intended to rid a widow of her husband''s spirit, spread disease and are a violation of dignity.
Widows are regularly accused of killing their husbands either deliberately or through neglect - including by transmitting HIV/AIDS - in India, Nepal, Papua New Guinea and sub-Saharan Africa.
Property seizures and evictions by the late husband''s family are widespread in many places including Angola, Bangladesh, Botswana, India, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.
A significant number of girls are widowed in childhood - a reflection of the prevalence of child marriage in developing countries and the custom of marrying off young girls to much older men.
June 2018
We must end the world''s cruelty towards widows, by Raj Loomba.
When my mother was widowed at the age of 37 following my father’s death from tuberculosis her grief was compounded by a cruel social stigma that she endured her whole life.
That was many decades ago, but India’s 46 million widows still face a myriad of injustices, often rooted in a belief that they bring bad luck because of their perceived link with the hereafter.
This weekend, on June 23, the anniversary of my mother’s widowhood, I will be attending a ceremony in India to mark International Widows Day - a time for reflecting on some of the world’s most marginalised women and highlighting the hidden abuses inflicted on them.
The discrimination faced by my mother was most acutely symbolised during my own wedding when the priest asked her not to stand near us lest she bring bad luck.
This was a turning point for me. How could a woman who had always cared for me and wished me well bring me bad luck? I had had enough of this socially prescribed misery heaped among personal tragedy and decided to turn my dismay into action.
I eventually helped to set up a charity which raises funds to educate the children of poor widows in India and empower widows across south Asia and Africa and which advocates for change.
Widows face a multitude of abuses, often arising from cultural and religious beliefs and linked to extreme poverty.
Many are robbed of their inheritance, some are treated as servants by their in-laws, others lose their children or are married off to their late husband’s brother.
In certain communities in Kenya, Malawi, Zambia and elsewhere some widows undergo degrading sexual rituals - called “widow cleansing” - in which they are made to have sex with a village “cleanser” or a relative of their late husband in the belief this exorcises his spirit. This practice has been documented as a factor in the spread of HIV/AIDS.
In parts of Africa, South Asia and the Middle East widows may be forced to marry their deceased husband’s brother.
In other places, including countries as disparate as India, Nigeria, Tanzania and Papua New Guinea, widows are accused of witchcraft and banished from communities or killed. Older widows are particularly at risk of such accusations.
In 2015, the World Widows Report - the most comprehensive study of widowhood to date - estimated there were more than 258 million widows globally. With so many conflicts raging, it’s likely this number will have risen.
Women left widowed by violence in Syria, Iraq and Myanmar continue to be abused in different ways. There are reports of Syrian women having to resort to sex work. Young widows are also at risk of falling prey to traffickers and forced into prostitution.
Closer to home, I wonder about the fate of widows in Greece after the destruction of the Greek economy. The UK’s dramatic slashing of bereavement benefits is also an unwelcome development.
But widows are not the only ones to suffer. Many of these women are mothers with young daughters, and the deprivations inflicted on them also impact the next generation of girls. Impoverishment, or the fear of poverty, often leads widows to favour their sons over daughters and may spur them to marry off their daughters early. All this has implications for the Sustainable Development Goals.
I believe the injustices suffered by widows often derive from a lack of empathy – both at a grassroots and institutional level. Institutions and their bureaucracies are often notoriously poor at empathy, especially when resources become scare. The world must rediscover its empathy, and convert it into action.
* World Widows Report 2015 (270pp):

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