Health and Healthcare Systems

World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims: How a global road safety crisis harms women's rights

Poor road safety can leave women disempowered.

Poor road safety can leave women disempowered. Image: REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

Nneka Henry
Head, UN Road Safety Fund
Heather Ibrahim-Leathers
Founder and President, Global Fund for Widows
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Women's Health

  • Road crashes claim 1.3 million lives every year and cause loss, long-term injury and a socio-economic and psychological burden felt especially by women.
  • Alongside physical and emotional suffering, in some communities, widows and their children face a loss of rights and are prevented from their rightful inheritance.
  • Advocating for women and safer roads can better support those women enduring loss of livelihoods and rights while reducing the road safety crisis.

Beyond the deaths they can cause, road crashes have a tremendous ripple effect on people.

Whether it is the excruciating pain of injuries, the burden of healthcare costs to recover from them or the disabilities incurred, not enough light is shed on the socio-economic and psychological effects of road crashes on victims’ loved ones – especially women.

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As we commemorate the 2023 World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims on 19 November, it is important to note the plight of a demographic often overlooked: widows.

According to the Global Fund for Widows, 20% of widowed women are widowed as a result of road crashes. Alongside the psychological suffering of mourning their spouse and a loss in physical productivity, widows and their children in some communities face a loss of rights and are prevented from their rightful inheritance, especially in matters of estate planning.

We must act to preserve lives and livelihoods while protecting women's rights. Here are three pathways to improving road safety and empowering widows:

1. Scaling women-centred solutions

Despite all the efforts being made towards eradicating road dangers, the sad reality is that every 24 seconds, a person dies owing to injuries caused by a road crash. This crisis threatens women's economic empowerment. Women need to be given access to financial and legal support to build back better from the tragic losses incurred.

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There are currently an estimated 258 million widows in the world and statistics show that nearly 1 in 10 lives in extreme poverty. Women living in developing economies, where 90% of road deaths occur, are most at risk of falling into widowhood.

Practical programme interventions, policy recommendations and more amalgamated advocacy and partnerships are required to protect women in the wake of road crashes. For instance, the Global Fund for Widows works to economically empower widows through their Widows’ Savings and Loan Associations (WISALAs), a micro-bank scheme that provides a permanent and sustainable source of capital for widows; and also through their global advocacy initiatives at the United Nations and beyond, which seek greater protection of widows’ rights.

With adequate support for the Global Fund for Widows, we can scale such livelihood support services and have a greater global impact on women everywhere.

2. Investing in what works

Alongside effective legislation and road safety management, financing evidence-based road safety solutions remains a staple recommendation to preserve lives and livelihoods and halt a crisis costing countries 3% of their annual GDP.

Victims of road crashes often end up with disabilities that prevent them from returning to work, affecting their finances and often forcing women, especially widows, to become the sole breadwinners in their homes.

The UN Road Safety Fund has a Vision Zero response to this crisis, recognizing that road deaths are preventable when transport systems prioritize safety and envisioning zero deaths from road crashes.

Like everyone else, we do not want any more fatalities on the roads or more women becoming widows because of road crashes. The fund's 44 road safety projects are all working to end this crisis in line with five strategic pillars (road safety management, safer vehicles, safer road users, post-crash response, and safer driving environments) to improve road safety.

The UN Road Safety Fund has a Vision Zero response to this crisis
The UN Road Safety Fund has a Vision Zero response to the road safety crisis Image: UN RSF

An example of what can be achieved is the Post-Crash Response Project in Bangladesh, where 50 volunteers have received training on post-crash care and psychological first aid at the crash site. In such projects, women are empowered through the skills gained from the training: some have even been inspired to pursue a career in medicine after saving lives.

We know of tried-and-tested road safety solutions, and decision-makers at country and regional levels can actively invest in the best practices that already exist to build robust road safety systems.

3. Advocating for women and safer roads

Despite the loud noise of road crashes and their rippling effect on women, the road safety crisis remains a deprioritized and muted agenda point in most countries. At the same time, it maintains its status as a silent epidemic on wheels, claiming 1.3 million lives every year and resulting in more women becoming widows each year.

A widowed woman selling watermelon on the road side in Malawi
A widowed woman selling watermelon on the road side in Malawi Image: Global Fund for Widows

Disinheritance, discrimination and harmful practices are some of the injustices endured by widows. Advocacy days such as International Widows’ Day are critical in raising awareness of the plight of women, reducing the social impact of road crashes on women and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

We call on everyone to act with us to remember the plight of road traffic victims, including women, on this World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims. This year’s slogan is “remember, support, act”. You can also join the UN Road Safety Fund's #moments2live4 campaign to celebrate the hidden heroes who make our everyday journeys safer.

We cannot afford the road safety crisis and its impact on people to remain hidden and beyond the headlines.

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