Violence against women is also: Stigmatizing and neglecting widows and divorced women

Violence Against Women Action Against Hunger

Photo: Marco Bottelli for Action Against Hunger



From November 25th, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and until December 10th, Human Rights Day, the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence is a global campaign to galvanize action to end violence against women and girls around the world.

Violence against women is one of the biggest causes of injury and death to women worldwide, causing more deaths and disability for women ages 15 to 44 than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war. In other words, it’s an epidemic. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that 1 in 3 women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.

However, violence against women goes beyond the physical. Violence can be physical, sexual, psychological. Violence can include limiting autonomy, decision-making power and access to certain resources.

For these 16 days, we are highlighting 16 different types of violence that women and girls experience beyond the physical.

You can take action against gender-based violence:


Day 11 – Stigmatizing and neglecting widows and divorced women



Unequal power between men and women

In many countries, men have the power to make household decisions, and most often, women do not. Boys and young men are more likely to be given the opportunity to attend school and pursue a career. Meanwhile girls and young women are often married at an early age and are not afforded the same opportunities to go to school. In many contexts, newlyweds are expected to settle in the husband’s home or community. This is known as a patrilocal marriage system and is widely practiced in countries in South Asia, for example. This system often prevents new wives from having access to their familial support system. Instead they are made to move to a new community and depend upon their husband and his family for support. This has a major impact on women’s lives, as it means they often find themselves isolated and forced to comply with the needs of their husband and new family. In some places, this system perpetuates other forms of violence against women, such as eating last and least, as newly married women occupy the lowest rank in the family hierarchy. It reinforces unequal decision-making power that already exists between men and women within households. In the case of a divorce, a women’s formal legal rights are often weak. Often, men will keep ownership of land and assets, and women tend to be left with the burden of caring for children without resources.


Understanding the implications of divorce and separation for women

The chances of being remarried are lower for women, simply because of traditional beliefs that never-married and younger women are more suitable. This is harmful because it prevents women from escaping violent relationships and getting a divorce. Instead they are forced to remain within their first marriages, at the expense of their happiness and safety. Widowed women face similar issues, as they often find it more difficult to remarry.

Changing cultural norms is not an easy challenge. Several studies have shown that divorce rates tend to rise when women have increased access to credit, education and support networks. Action Against Hunger supports women through all of three in the form of mother-to-mother support groups. Mother-to-mother support groups have been established in several countries and offer women opportunities to pool resources to create micro-credit arrangements, they are groups that are easily mobilized for training and educational opportunities, and lastly, they provide much-needed support for women. This is important in ensuring that newly married women are integrated within the community and that they can support each other in times of need.

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Photo: Hawo Abdi, widow and mother of five, Somalia.


Ending violence against women is key to ending hunger.