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 MEASURES GEARED TOWARD ADVANCING WIDOWS’ RIGHTS

Written by Thomas Kagwa

Social protection programs for widows contribute to economic empowerment.

There has been an uptick of activities aimed at creating the political consensus for the adoption of macro-level economic policy accelerators that support gender-equitable inclusive growth and more and better jobs for widows, through evidence-based policy analysis and advocacy, technical advice, and capacity strengthening.

Across the board, there is widespread adoption of sectoral and industrial policies that tackle occupational and sectoral segregation and enhance widows’ access to decent employment opportunities, through policy advice, capacity development, and technical support.

Another measure involves ensuring that investments in care service provision for widows – in health, long-term care, and education are costed, financed, and implemented through policy advice, capacity development, and technical support.

Given the interconnected nature of challenges facing women, widow advocacy groups will use integrated approaches that have helped women elsewhere while focusing on systemic outcomes to address the root causes of the injustices and discrimination faced by widows.

The areas that advocacy groups target will centre around four pillars:

  • Widow access to economic opportunities and guarantees.
  • Widows’ social integration and access to legal services.
  • Ending cultural, physical, and psychological abuse against widows, and
  • Widows’ peace and security, especially in conflicts and natural disasters.

Despite the Kenyan government’s efforts, the prevailing cultural and social norms remain a central cause for disproportionately disadvantaging widows and creating multiple constraints for them, including limited ownership, access to, and control of long-term assets, resources, and services; labour market exclusion; high levels of illiteracy and numeracy incapability; limited access to income and decision making over expenditures; high fertility rates and high unmet needs for contraception and sexual and reproductive health education; overburdened with unpaid domestic work; and limited access to financial services; among others. 

Social norms continue to play a big role in determining bargaining power within a household. Limited control over resources and assets and their lack of power and autonomy does not only constrain widow’s well-being, but the well-being of their households and the community as a whole

Social protection programs can accelerate widows’ rights by expanding their opportunities for paid work, boosting ownership of productive assets, enhancing control over incomes, increasing social networks, and raising awareness of widows’ rights. 

Such gains do not flow automatically. Widow advocacy groups such as The Goat Foundation’s implementation strategy for widows’ economic sustainability, together with local realities will affect the extent to which these potential gains amongst widows can be realized in practice.

A social-norms lens is a major criterion for the design of any sustainable and gender-responsive social protection program. A social lens is not an optional add-on, but an integral part of social protection policy and programming if it is to achieve long-term sustainable change for widows. 

Social protection programs for widows should set criteria that are geared towards breaking through any negative stigma and cultural norms, including directing benefits to widows in the first place. As such, a careful review of the conditionalities required for empowering widows’ groups as well as strategies for gathering data on the socio-economic conditions of widows, remain important.

Capacity strengthening at all levels, as well as community sensitization and awareness of the role of both men and women in promoting widows’ economic empowerment, are key. This also means social protection programs must budget for regular training, workshops, dialogues, and the like, inclusive to both men and women in order to fulfil this goal. 

Commitment and priority in financing widow-responsive social protections are key and most important. Governments should mobilize and equitably allocate resources to ensure effective implementation and maximum program outcomes in both quality and quantity.