hope for widows
across the developing world

Cherie Blair FOUNDATION FOR WOMEN                           https://cherieblairfoundation.org

Cherie Blair Foundation for Women logo

The Cherie Blair Foundation is included among our NGOs even though widows per se are not its focus. The Foundation has a much larger and more ambitious vision of empowering women and girls, wherever they are economically disadvantaged, to become entrepreneurs.

The Foundation partners with many local organizations who work specifically with widows, and so it contributes much to enable widows to rise above the poverty and deplorable conditions in which they are forced to live. They are provided the resources and mentoring to start and successfully run their own businesses, which means that they and their children have a hope-filled future.

From their website: 

“Our strategy needs to be aspirational because we see every day that when women entrepreneurs have the support and opportunities to thrive, the future is transformed: businesses flourish, communities prosper, economies grow and attitudes shift.”

This organization has a vision that excites me, and if you’re interested in entrepreneurship, you’ll want to spend time browsing their website.

Currently they are on a mission to empower "100,000 more women in low and middle income countries to start and grow successful businesses" by the end of 2022 (having previously set 175,000 women on the path to success, their track record is sound).

As they invite us to partner with them, they point out... 
"Not only will this have an incredible impact on women, families and communities, and help achieve global gender equality, it will help create huge global benefit. Research we published with Boston Consulting Group shows that if women had equal opportunities to be entrepreneurs, global GDP could rise by $5 trillion. Now, due to the worldwide pandemic, that need is felt more strongly than ever."



                FINCA INTERNATIONAL                                              https://finca.org

FINCA International logo

FINCA exists to help more than widows; its goal is to enable all low-income people, and especially women, to move forward once their most basic needs are addressed in practical ways.

FINCA works in 44 countries around the world, and since its beginning in 1984 has impacted the lives of 1.4 million women (and their families).  Their website explains that they are empowering these widows and other desperately poor people to succeed by  “offering responsible financial services, such as small loans or savings accounts; by reaching people in remote communities using technology like mobile phones and tablets; and by providing access to life-enhancing products, like solar home systems and clean cookstoves.”

Rose Ben Aya's story from the FINCA website

                        Rose Ben Aya fled South Sudan with her children in 2016 amidst one of the most widespread violent outbreaks of the civil war.  When she settled in Kiryandongo, she understood that while life would be difficult for her and her children, their lives as refugees would be better than the future they faced in South Sudan.

                        When Rose first heard that a company called BrightLife was selling solar lighting in Kiryandongo, she was interested to learn more.  Rose’s ambition is to make a better life for her children.  She believes education is essential to their future success. She knew that her five children surrounding a single candle as the light source to study in the evening was not ideal or safe.

                        Rose met Brightlife sales agent Charles Ochan, who introduced her to a solar home system for the first time in her life. She immediately recognized its potential value for her home and her children. Although as a farmer, she was concerned if she could afford to buy a solar home system. Charles explained to Rose how she could finance the solar home system through pay-as-you-go on her mobile phone.

                        Rose says the only way she has been able to afford the solar home system is through the pay-as-you-go financing.  She adds that the savings of 1,000 shillings ($0.27) a day from no longer buying candles for lighting now go toward paying off the solar home system.

                        Rose is not quick to smile. Yet, when she talks about the impact of the solar energy on her children’s studies, her face lights up. “When my children studied around a single candle, it was hard for them to study, and their eyes would hurt from the smoke,” she says. “With solar lights, my children can concentrate better on their studies, and they are all doing better at school.”

    GLOBAL FUND FOR WIDOWS                                         https://globalfundforwidows.org

Global Fund for Widows logo

This website offers an excellent, simplified introduction to the very complex problem of widows worldwide (in my opinion). For the “Widows for Dummies” version, read this website!

Global Fund for Widows addresses the core issue affecting a woman who has been widowed: how is she to support herself and her family?

It was started by Heather Ibrahim-Leathers, whose own grandmother was widowed.

Even as a young child Ms. Ibrahim-Leathers began to experience first-hand the dramatic and appalling impacts widowhood had on her grandmother and family.

As a result her life’s passion has been to do all in her power to change the economic reality of widows around the world, in ways that are sustainable and empowering of the widows themselves.

Global Fund for Widows runs projects in the Dominican Republic and Bolivia in Central and South America; Egypt, Nigeria, Kenya, and Tanzania in Africa; and in India.

One of their unique solutions to the problem of widowhood’s poverty is the establishment of WISALAs (Widows’ Savings and Loan Associations) all over the world.

These microfinance banks are owned and run by the widows themselves, and have proved extremely successful.

But more than simply creating access to credit for aspiring entrepreneurs, the Global Fund for Widows also provides emergency funding when a widow is unable to provide for the most basic needs of herself and her children; it educates widows so they are less disadvantaged in a literate world; and it helps them learn skills that enable them to find and keep employment.

Widows and abandoned women qualify for grants from the Fund to start or expand an existing business, thus earning enough to look after their family and ensure their children’s education.

If you browse their website, you’ll find real optimism and hope for widows. Read some of their stories here. 

Here's the story of another woman, helped by a project supported by Global Fund for Widows. 

You'll find other YouTube videos from Global Fund for Widows online, which give a real sense of how they are bringing hope to widows through their partners' initiatives.

            GRAMEEN FOUNDATION                                    https://grameenfoundation.org                                

Grameen Foundation has created a unique approach to investing in the lives and welfare of the poorest of the poor.

The Foundation grew out of the experience of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, which successfully pioneered the concept of microloans for the very poor. (In most developing countries, the poor in rural areas have no access to banking services in distant towns, and because of illiteracy would be disadvantaged anyway).

Grameen Foundation points out that poverty is fundamentally sexist, with 70% of women unable to access financial markets. So women, including destitute widows, are high on their priorities.

Their vision is “A world free of poverty” and their Mission Statement says “Grameen Foundation empowers the poor, especially women, to create a world without poverty and hunger.”

What the Grameen Foundation has done in the 40 countries where they work, is to make microfinance available by employing hundreds of local Grameen Community Agents who teach people in the community about saving, financial resilience, etc. and who use simple handheld tablets to do financial transactions for the dozens of clients in their village.

They also access digital farming information for the local farmers (many of whom are women) who are thus able to grow much better crops for a higher return on investment.

It’s a simple yet powerful way to disrupt the cycle of poverty that has held so many people in developing countries powerless and hopeless.

Joyce's Story and Grace's Story are a couple of great examples of the difference the Grameen Foundation is creating.

In this blog Lauren Hendricks, Executive Vice President for Grameen Foundation, makes the case for empowering women farmers, with very positive results all round. This is a good read. 

                      HelpAge International                                        www.helpage.org                                         

HelpAge International logo

HelpAge International is a global network of organizations that promote “the rights of all older people to lead dignified, healthy and secure lives.”

They focus on developing and middle-income countries, since in such countries there is little-to-no support for the elderly. In fact, the elderly often experience the systemic abuse of ageism or outright neglect, or of violence motivated by greed.

HelpAge International uses the moral strength of multiple human rights groups to advocate strongly for older persons.  For instance, in October 2021 they publicized the horrific lynching of four elderly widows in Kenya accused of "witchcraft", and are demanding justice for their families, but also radical changes in the law so that such treatment of elderly widows (and sometimes men) is no longer tolerated.

While HelpAge International does not focus primarily on widows, elderly widows are included in their programs, which run in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Europe, Caribbean and Latin America, the Middle East and North America.

Widows for Peace Through Democracy is an NGO that evolved out of an earlier organization (Empowering Widows for Development), with a special concern for the unique needs of war widows.

The director of the organization, Margaret Owen, is one of the larger-than-life figures in the global effort to ensure the rights and needs of widows are addressed in every country. She has influenced the world’s leaders, perhaps more than any other single individual, with regard to the appalling plight of widows in developing countries.

Inspirational Women

A blog by Pat Black   16th March 2018    [from the Soroptimist International Website]

“One of the most amazing experiences in returning to CSW [Commission on the Status of Women] is that of meeting inspirational women. Some of them are those whom we meet every year.  Long-term campaigners and activists who never give up on the cause they are fighting for.  One of those women is 86 year old Margaret Owen, a human rights barrister based in the UK but fighting for the rights of widows globally. She founded the first international organization to address human rights issues in the context of widowhood, and is now the director of  Widows for Peace through Democracy, which is the umbrella for many partner organizations across the world.

“Over the years she has raised awareness of the plight of widows in many countries, banging on the doors of the United Nations, often literally, to ensure their stories are told and to require their inclusion and recognition by the United Nations and its member states.  It has taken many years of persistence but at CSW62 there are events raising the issue of widows in rural areas, and the draft text of the Agreed Conclusions even includes the word ‘widows’.”

WPD's Mission Statement says:  To ensure widows of all ages, irrespective of their religion, ethnicity, caste, class, or nationality, are protected from discrimination and violence, and can enjoy their full human rights as equal and valuable members of society.

The efforts of this group are directed at educating and assisting war widows to organize into associations, so that they have a strong enough combined voice to influence government policy and peace-making reconstruction once a conflict is over.

They work with partner organizations in Africa (Burundi, Cameroon, DRC, Ghana, Nigeria, South Sudan, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia); in Asia (Afghanistan, India, Iraq, Nepal, and Sri Lanka); and Europe (Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo).

They have become an umbrella organization for all these war widows associations plus other widows groups, representing them at the UN and other international forums.

Included in their groundbreaking work has been the creation of a Charter for the Rights of Widows, intended to be used as a lobbying tool by widows’ groups and adapted to the specifics of each country. With this draft Charter in hand, each national government will be able to effectively create laws that specifically protect the rights of its widows.   

This report, issued by Widows for Peace through Democracy, was presented to CEDAW [The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women] in 2018 regarding the prevalence of discrimination against widows, and recommendations for changing it. 

 And before you go on to the next NGO, please watch this video speech that was presented to CEDAW62 by Rosaline Orwa, the founder and director of partner nonprofit RONA Foundation (you can read about this fine organization in the section on African nonprofits). Rosaline delivers a strong and heartfelt appeal for recognition of the appalling situation faced by rural widows; I hope that it influenced the thinking of the delegates gathered at that forum.


Widows' Rights International logo

    WIDOWS RIGHTS INTERNATIONAL                                   http://www.widowsrights.org

Widows Rights International also evolved out of the earlier NGO, Empowering Widows for Development.  It focuses on getting laws changed and/or implemented all around the world where widows are discriminated against.

WRI advocates vigorously for the rights of widows at the international and national levels, as well as engaging with legal and civil society organizations at the grassroots level.

Their website includes links to many articles on widows, which in itself is a great resource for anyone wanting to learn more about the devastating plight of the developing world’s widows. You’ll find these under “International Instruments” and “Reports”. Also check out the other valuable resources available on this site

My thanks to Widows Rights International for allowing me to use their striking picture as the banner picture for this website.


There's also hope for destitute widows in Africa, China, India and South Asia, and conflict areas. Read about the work of the fine organizations in these areas.

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