HOW DOES WIDOWHOOD INTERSECT WITH OTHER FORMS OF DISCRIMINATION?
When a woman’s value is contingent on having a spouse, widowhood can force women out of familial and social structures, leaving them particularly vulnerable to poverty, isolation, and violence. These challenges may be compounded by struggles that widows face on account of other intersecting identities: Black and Indigenous women, women affected by conflict, women with disabilities, women of young and older ages, women living in poverty or rural areas, and other marginalized identities.
Race may be a social construct but it’s one with consequences that may span generations. While both Black and white families can experience upward or downward wealth mobility from one generation to the next, studies show the dramatic socioeconomic disadvantages for Black families have persisted across generations.
The authors find that to be a black widow is literally like jumping from a frying pan into the fire. They quote, “the family prevalence of unemployment—having multiple family members unemployed at the same time—is greater for Blacks widows than whites.” Not only are economic hardships more pervasive among Black widows and socioeconomic resources more common among white families, but the difference in resource availability from relatives is also striking in the event of economic hardship.
Being a widow with disabilities presents a unique set of challenges. We know that women with disabilities face significantly more difficulties – in both public and private spheres – in attaining access to adequate housing, health, education, vocational training, and employment, and are more likely to be institutionalized, this effect is compounded when one is a widow. As with all women, widows also experience inequality in hiring, promotion rates and pay for equal work, access to training and retraining, credit, and other productive resources, and rarely participate in economic decision-making
Promoting gender equality and empowerment of women is essential to the achievement of internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals. Women and girls with disabilities experience double discrimination, which places them at higher risk of gender-based violence, sexual abuse, neglect, maltreatment, and exploitation, and widowhood makes this problem multiply a hundredfold. The global literacy rate is as low as one per cent for women with disabilities, according to a UNDP study. The World Bank reports that every minute more than 30 women are seriously injured or disabled during labour and that those 15-50 million women generally go unnoticed.
Gendered ageism is the intersectionality of age, gender bias and widowhood. In the workplace, this is a growing concern for professional women especially those identified as widows.
Society’s emphasis on what is defined as ‘lookism’, which is the importance of a youthful and attractive appearance, puts women and widows under a microscope as they show visible signs of ageing. Because of ‘lookism’, women face ageism earlier than their male counterparts. The bias erodes widows’ and women’s self-esteem and confidence, but the effects of gendered ageism on professional women go beyond the pressure they may feel to look young. This form of bias affects their job security and financial future as they are perceived in the workplace as being less valuable, less competent, and irrelevant as they age
Most women and significant widows in Africa are subjected to various forms of gender-based discrimination and remain marginalized in many spheres, including the enjoyment of economic rights. In spite of their active roles in the economic sector, they own or control less of the land, capital, or other assets and earn the lowest income. Discriminatory laws, cultural and/or religious norms, and traditions that perpetuate their exclusion from access, and control over resources continue to adversely affect their economic status within the family and the society. Across the Continent, constitutions, and laws often enshrine the principle of equality and non-discrimination, and further guarantee a range of economic, social, and cultural rights for women. However, the gendered dimensions of economic inequality remain vigorous. Weak laws as well as lack of enforcement reinforce discrimination against women and perpetuate their inequality in the economic sphere.