Losing a partner will often be the most traumatic experience a person faces and can lead to detrimental effects on a person’s mental and physical health.
For many of the estimated 258 million widows globally, this grief and loss can be coupled with crushing poverty and persecution. For the estimated 584 million children of these women, this poverty can be extremely difficult to escape and can significantly affect the prosperity of the next generation. Around 11% of the world’s population live in extreme poverty, but globally almost 15% of widows live in extreme poverty where they are unable to meet their basic needs. The number of widows and the situation widows find themselves in are often symptomatic of wider issues in their society, and an effective response cannot fail to consider this within a wider context.
Countries where the number of widows is the highest are those scarred, as the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, has just said, by significant past or current conflict, for example Afghanistan and Ukraine. The Legatum Prosperity Index clearly demonstrates this—I refer to my interests as set out in the register. It shows that a lack of safety and security in a country is the most significant barrier to development and prosperity. The countries at the bottom of the index are those, such as Yemen, the Central African Republic, Sudan and Afghanistan, which have experienced significant conflict. For many women recently widowed in conflict, their situation will be compounded by the effects of that ongoing conflict. Many will become refugees and be at serious risk of being trafficked; 71% of the detected victims of human trafficking are women and girls, and it is known that traffickers prey on women, such as recent widows, who are not accompanied by men and find themselves in vulnerable situations. Many trafficked women may have started their journey as a refugee fleeing war, having lost their partner.
It is also no accident that many of the countries which find themselves in the bottom third of the Legatum Prosperity Index are among those with the poorest record on women’s rights, education and economic empowerment. It is evident that a nation cannot fully reach its potential when only half of its human capital is empowered.
Read Philippa's speech here.