Invisible women, invisible problems

International Widows’ Day is a global awareness day about the plight of widows. Unisa celebrated this day for the first time in 2019, organised by Dr Sizakele Matlabe. The Covid-19 virus did not stop Matlabe from commemorating this noteworthy day this year, either, although lockdown regulations didn’t allow for a physical event.

Matlabe was invited to discuss some of the preliminary findings of her research study on widows on Metro FM’s The Kings Suite, hosted by Siphesihle "Sphectacula" Ngwenya and Lebogang "DJ Naves" Naves. She indicated that while some widows are treated well by their family members and society in South Africa, a large number indicated that they were treated badly by society and their family members.

Culture is abused and used as a weapon to stigmatise widows, Matlabe explained. Widows are not seen as normal human beings, but as carriers of bad luck. (This is like bane lifu lelimunyama/sefifi; they are under a dark cloud.) Therefore, they are not supposed to be seen in public or gatherings while wearing their mourning clothes or while they are still in mourning. Matlabe condemned the ill-treatment of widows and indicated that this was not necessary. The death of a spouse should be treated like any other death.

Invisible women, invisible problems

Theme 2020 for International Widows’ Day is "Invisible Women, Invisible Problems".

The loss of a partner is devastating. For many women around the world, especially in developing countries, that loss is magnified by a long-term struggle for their basic needs, their human rights and dignity, says the UN.

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 just the time when they are cut off from their usual socio-economic and family supports.

According to, International Widows’ Day works to "encourage action in achieving full rights for widows, highlighting the need for more research and statistics into violence, discrimination and poverty suffered by widows and develop policies and programmes to address the problem. The ultimate goal of the day is to develop resources and policies to empower widows and allow them to have access to education, work, healthcare and lives free of violence and abuse, and enabling them to create a life for themselves and their children following the death of the husband and ending a cycle of poverty and abuse."

Read the statement for International Widows’ Day 2020 by Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, here.

* By Sizakele Matlabe, DEd and Senior Lecturer, Department of Educational Foundations, College of Education


Publish date: 2020/08/05