As a widow, I faced humiliation and stigma. Now I’m speaking up for others

Roseline Orwa | April 4, 2024

According to the World Widows Report, the global population of widows pre-covid stood at a staggering 258 million with about 38 million widows living in extreme poverty. The Covid-19 pandemic along with ongoing war and conflict in Syria, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Ukraine and Gaza has only increased this number and further exacerbated widows’ plight, writes Roseline Orwa in this piece for The Guardian. Founder of the Rona Foundation as well as our 2021 New Voices Fellow and 2023 Advanced Advocacy Fellow, Orwa’s organization provides legal advocacy, economic support, and emergency response to widows in Kenya.

Orwa, who has been a widow for 16 years now, reflects on her personal journey and highlights the myriad of challenges widowed women encounter every day in Kenya. “From enduring forced sexual cleansing rituals to grapple with stigma and being disinherited, I empathize with the deep-rooted injustices that widows confront daily”, she writes. She further notes that widowhood rites, which are often meant to honor the deceased and demonstrate the widow’s grief, can actually further marginalize them and make women more vulnerable by subjecting them “to psychological and physical indignity”.

As conflict and instability further increase the number of widows, both in East Africa and around the world, Orwa calls for long-term funding from donors that can ensure organizations such as hers continue to provide these women with adequate rights and protection. She ultimately notes that until widows have adequate rights, Africa will not achieve the 2030 sustainable development goals target.


To read more about how Orwa and her organization continue to fight for the rights of widowed women as well as promote their well-being and independence click below.