How Covid-19 pandemic has aggravated plight of widows

Thursday, July 2nd, 2020 00:00 |

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One of the unresolved issues surrounding Covid-19 is the reason why more men seem to be succumbing to the disease compared to women.

Although researchers are yet to get to the bottom of this spectacle, various studies have suggested that women could have a more resilient immune system than men due to their sex hormone estrogen, and a higher number of immune related genes.

Statistics show that on average, men account for more than 60 per cent of the pandemic’s casualties along stages of the disease.

“In every country with sex-disaggregated data … there is between a 10 per cent and 90 per cent higher rate of mortality amongst people diagnosed with Covid if they are men, compared to if they are women,” Sarah Hawkes, professor of global public health at University College London told CNN on March 24.

But this is only half the story. As these men pass on, they are leaving behind families, spouses and partners.

The United Nations notes that the pandemic has just worsened the situation during the past several months with a devastating human loss, and one that is likely leaving tens of thousands of women newly widowed at a very inopportune moment. 

Widowhood is not a new phenomenon. During the last annual UN International Widows’ Day held on June 23, 2019, there were 258.5 million widows globally, taking care of 584.6 million children.

During the period under review, 38 million of the widows lived below the poverty line, about one in every 10. 

More statistics from the “World Widows Report” published by The Loomba Foundation show that death through conflict and disease contributed to a nine per cent rise in the number of widows between 2010 and 2015. 

As women, widows suffer double jeopardy. First, they undergo the normal challenges faced by millions of women around the world by virtue of gender, and suffer further from the tribulations of acting involuntarily as the sole breadwinners of their families.

Indeed, the lack of a male presence or figure head in their families exposes widows to indignity, stigma and discrimination, particularly in developing countries.

Widows also go through violence, both from their communities and their extended families, as they are an easy target for bullying.  

Many deceased men have left their families in destitution after their partners are disinherited.

This practice is prevalent in African countries, where women are usually suspected to have contributed to their husband’s demise.

This includes being disowned or sexually exploited by in-laws in return for security and sustenance.

But since widowhood will continue to feature in human existence as long as the factors that predispose men to earlier deaths than women prevail, the best approach is to seek ways of bettering the lives of the millions of women who end up in this unfortunate situation. It is a human right that is unreservedly owed to them by every society. 

Widows usually support progeny single-handedly, something that needs to be secured.

Women, particularly in developing countries, need sufficient legal support to ensure that the future of their families is safeguarded both in the presence and absence of their partners. 

Widows also need comprehensive health services to ensure that they do not succumb to disease.

In order to take care of the children and other responsibilities left behind, widows and their families must be given access to affordable universal health care. Free education for their children also falls in this category.     

When the Covid-19 pandemic finally passes, the tally of widows may not be significant in relation to the pre-pandemic figures.

However, the aggravated damage will compound the current social and economic burdens of widowhood.

Therefore, there is need to generate policies that cushion all widows, and the families they bring up painstakingly.  —The writer is a communications expert and public policy analyst  —[email protected]

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