Abused and destitute: Wars fuel rise in global number of widows

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Attacks by Rohingya Muslim insurgents on the Myanmar security forces in Rakhine state triggered a response by the army and Buddhist vigilantes so brutal a senior UN official denounced it as a textbook example of ethnic cleansing. (REUTERS)
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Rohingya Muslim women, who crossed over from Myanmar into Bangladesh, stretch their arms out to collect sanitary products distributed by aid agencies near Balukhali refugee camp, Bangladesh, Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017. (AP)
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Displaced Sunni women fleeing the violence in Ramadi, carry bags as they walk on the outskirts of Baghdad, May 24, 2015. (REUTERS)
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This combo photo comprises of portraits of some of the Rohingya Muslim women taken during an interview with The Associated Press in November 2017 in Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh. (AP)
Updated 23 June 2018

Abused and destitute: Wars fuel rise in global number of widows

  • One in seven widows globally — 38 million — lives in extreme poverty
  • Deaths through conflict and disease contributed to a 9 percent increase in the number of widows between 2010 and 2015

LONDON: Millions of widows worldwide suffer crushing poverty and persecution, their numbers swelled by a proliferation of conflicts from Syria to Myanmar.
International Widows’ Day on June 23 aims to raise awareness of the often hidden injustices they face.
Many are robbed of their inheritance, while others are enslaved by in-laws, accused of witchcraft or forced into abusive sexual rituals. Here are some facts:
- Experts estimated there were 258.5 million widows globally in 2015, but say the number is likely to have risen.
- Deaths through conflict and disease contributed to a 9 percent increase in the number of widows between 2010 and 2015.
- The biggest jump has been in the Middle East and North Africa, where the estimated number of widows rose 24 percent between 2010 and 2015, partly due to the Syrian war and other conflicts.
- One in seven widows globally — 38 million — lives in extreme poverty.
- One in 10 women of marital age is widowed. The proportion is about one in five in Afghanistan and Ukraine.
- A third of widows worldwide live in India or China. India, with an estimated 46 million widows in 2015, has overtaken China (44.6 million) to become the country with the largest number of widows.
- Widow “cleansing” rituals in some sub-Saharan countries may require a widow to drink the water used to wash her dead husband’s body or to have sex with an in-law, village “cleanser” or stranger.
- Campaigners for widows’ rights say such rituals, which are intended to rid a widow of her husband’s spirit, spread disease and are a violation of dignity.
- Widows are regularly accused of killing their husbands either deliberately or through neglect — including by transmitting HIV/AIDS — in India, Nepal, Papua New Guinea and sub-Saharan Africa.
- Property seizures and evictions by the late husband’s family are widespread in many places including Angola, Bangladesh, Botswana, India, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.
- A significant number of girls are widowed in childhood — a reflection of the prevalence of child marriage in developing countries and the custom of marrying off young girls to much older men.

Filipino rebel chiefs become officials under peace deal

President Rodrigo Duterte, political leaders and officials flash the peace sign following Friday’s oath-taking ceremony in Manila. (AP)
Updated 22 February 2019

Filipino rebel chiefs become officials under peace deal

  • It is a very difficult and challenging process, says MILF spokesman

MANILA: Some of the fiercest Muslim rebel commanders in the southern Philippines were sworn in Friday as administrators of a new Muslim autonomous region in a delicate milestone to settle one of Asia’s longest-raging rebellions.

President Rodrigo Duterte led a ceremony to name Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) leader Murad Ebrahim and some of his top commanders as among 80 administrators of a transition government for the five-province region called Bangsamoro.

About 12,000 combatants with thousands of firearms are to be demobilized starting this year under the peace deal.  Thousands of other guerrillas would disarm if agreements under the deal would be followed, including providing the insurgents with livelihood to help them return to normal life.

“We would like to see an end of the violence,” Duterte said. 

“After all, we go to war and shoot each other counting our victories not by the progress or development of the place but by the dead bodies that were strewn around during the violent years.”

About 150,000 people have died in the conflict over several decades and stunted development in the resource-rich region. 

Duterte promised adequate resources, a daunting problem in the past.

The Philippine and Western governments and the guerrillas see an effective Muslim autonomy as an antidote to nearly half a century of secessionist violence, which Daesh could exploit to gain a foothold.

“The dream that we have fought for is now happening and there’s no more reason for us to carry our guns and continue the war,” rebel forces spokesman Von Al-Haq said in an interview ahead of the ceremony.

Several commanders long wanted for deadly attacks were given safety passes to be able to travel to Manila and join the ceremony, including Abdullah Macapaar, who uses the nom de guerre Commander Bravo, Al-Haq said. 

Known for his fiery rhetoric while wearing his camouflage uniform and brandishing his assault rifle and grenades, Macapaar will be one of the 41 regional administrators from the rebel front.

Duterte will pick his representatives to fill the rest of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority, which will also act as a regional Parliament with Murad as the chief minister until regular officials are elected in 2022.

Members of the Moro National Liberation Front, which signed a 1996 autonomy deal that has largely been seen as a failure, will also be given seats in the autonomous government.

Disgruntled fighters of the Moro National Liberation Front broke off and formed new armed groups, including the notorious Abu Sayyaf, which turned to terrorism and banditry after losing its commanders early in battle. 

The Abu Sayyaf has been blacklisted by the US as a terrorist organization and has been suspected of staging a suspected Jan. 27 suicide bombing that killed 23 mostly churchgoers in a Roman Catholic cathedral on southern Jolo island.

“We have already seen the pitfalls,” Al-Haq said, acknowledging that the violence would not stop overnight because of the presence of the Abu Sayyaf and other armed groups, some linked to Daesh. 

“It’s a very difficult and challenging process.”