Widow

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A widow is a woman whose husband has died. A man whose wife has died is a widower. A widow can be especially 
Widows.jpg
socially vulnerable in some countries due to the lack of protection of a male figure, and sometimes face significant economic problems as a result. In other societies, widows can carry on her late husband's business and consequently be accorded certain rights, such as the right to enter guilds.

HIV/AIDS, poverty, ethnic cleansing and armed conflict are the most common causes of widowhood.[1]

Global figures

It is estimated that there are over 245 million widows across the globe with over 500 million dependent children.  Over 100 million of these widows and their children live in poverty. 1.5 million widow's children die yearly before their fifth birthday.[2] According to the United Nations, as of 2010, the countries with the highest amount of widows are: China with 43 million, India with 42.4 million, the United States with 13.6 million, Indonesia with 9.4 million, Japan with 7.4 million, Russia with 7.1 million, Brazil with 5.6 million, Germany with 5.1 million, and Bangladesh and Vietnam with about 4.7 million each.[3]

Widows in developing countries

The economic position of widows is an important social issue in many societies. In societies where the husband is typically the sole provider, his death can plunge his family into poverty, and many of the hardships faced by widows and their children are due to customs and attitudes toward widows and the lack of sufficient support systems. Many widows and their children are socially outcast when the husband dies and are targeted for, or subjected to 
rape, 
prostitution, 
forced 
marriage, 
property
 theft, 
eviction, 

and 
physical 
and 
psychological 
abuse. While the children are additionally subjected to child marriage, loss of schooling, forced labor and slavery.[4] This is often aggravated by women having longer life spans, and the fact that men generally marry women younger than themselves.

There are said to be about 2 million widows in Afghanistan and at least 740,000 Iraqi widows, mainly due to the ongoing conflicts in the region.[5]

In India there is often an elaborate ceremony during the funeral of a widow's husband, including smashing the bangles, removing the bindi as well as any colorful attire, and requiring the woman to wear white clothes, the colour of mourning. Earlier it was compulsory to wear all white after the husband was dead, and even widow burning (sati or suttee) was practiced sometimes. Sati has been forbidden in India for over a century, and typical practices now consist of wearing coloured clothing.[6] [7]

African widows, irrespective of ethnic group, are among the most vulnerable and destitute women in the region. Discrimination in the cultural traditions and codes of inheritance often take precedence over modern laws and international women's humans rights standards like the CEDAW.  Rising international debt, structural adjustment programs, land shortage, natural disasters, the HIV/AIDS pandemic and armed conflict have all had a multiplier effect on the mistreament and preying upon of widows and their children. Widow abuse in Africa is visible across ethnic groups, class, education and income levels. The degrading practice of levirate, being forced to marry the dead husband's brother, is still practiced in various regions.  This started as a custom to ensure that no widow could be kicked out of her home and face a life without financial provision, but it can also be used to keep money within the family, or other exploitative purposes.[8]

Percentage of those aged 60+ that are widowed, 1985-1997[9]
Africa Women Men

Northern Africa

59% 8%      
Sub-Saharan Africa 44% 7%

Caribbean

34% 12%

Central America

36% 12%

South America

37% 13%

Eastern Asia

49% 14%

Southeast Asia

49% 14%

Southern Asia

51% 11%

Central Asia

58% 13%

Western Asia

48% 8%

Oceania

44% 15%

Eastern Europe

48% 14%

Western Europe

40% 12%
Other Developed Countries 39% 11%


Widows in developed countries

Persecution and abuse against widows and their children is not limited to the developing world, and there are large quantities of widowed families experiencing the same abuses across Europe, Russia, and Central Asia.

Abandoned widows in India

Certain sections of the Hindu community, especially in the state of West Bengal, abandon their widows in ‘holy’ cities of Vrindavan (Mathura) or Kashi (Varanasi), where they are forced into prostitution or have to beg on the streets for survival. The ones who are lucky are provided a dole by the government, approximately amounting to USD 6 per month. The official figures provided by the District Probation Office and Social Welfare Department at Mathura puts the number of abandoned women in the entire district at 3151 — a large number of whom were shunned by their conservative and orthodox families in certain parts of West Bengal and persuaded or even forced by their families to live a ‘sacred widowed life' in Vrindavan after the deaths of their husbands.

A study by the District Legal Services Authority (DLSA), Mathura, titled ‘Plight of Forsaken/Forlorn Women — Old and Widows Living in Vrindavan and Radius’ starkly brings out the pathetic lives these women are forced to lead. It says, “The living quarters are unhygienic with little or no facilities for toilets and drinking water. Medical facilities are only on paper…due to lack of education, the women are often deprived of the paltry sum they are entitled to under the National Social Assistance Programme, Antodaya Scheme and the Food Money Scheme as the funds are often pilfered…”

Another fact, hidden from the public eye so far, has been highlighted in this report. It says that the widows who die in Vrindavan are not given a burial or cremation, but instead, “the bodies of widows who die in government-run shelter homes in Vrindavan are taken away by sweepers at night, cut into pieces, put into jute bags and disposed of as the institutions do not have any provision for a decent funeral. This, too, is done only after the inmates give money to the sweeper!”

The District Legal Services Authority in its report quoted Mithilesh Solanki, a widow living in Swadhar Mahila Ashray Kendra, Chaitanya Vihar (Vrindavan), to reveal the “sorry state of affairs and disheartening fact that sweepers take away the dead bodies in the night, cut them into pieces and dispose them of in jute bags.”

A report on this issue was published in The Hindu on January 8, 2012.

Case studies

Widows' Rights International, a non-governmental organisation that works to protect the human rights of widows, gives examples of the violence and hardship suffered by many widows in certain societies. For example, in Eastern Uganda, when an illiterate housewife with four children called Rosa was widowed, her husband's family accused her of witchcraft and 'conniving with [her husband's] killers in order to take over her husband’s property. She was branded a ‘witch and a harlot’ and was told by her husband’s relatives that since she had killed their son, she would not inherit any property and must marry a relative. Despite marrying her husband's cousin, and having a child with him, the accusation remained and a few years later she had the choice of being evicted or of being murdered. Her clan head could not help her and she lived as a beggar for 6 years until a local widows' support network helped her regain her land.[10]

Examples of the treatment of widows by their villages from the United Nations Widows and Orphans Ministry of Ghana include: stripping the widow naked and forcing her to wear leaves during the husbands funeral; bathing her before the crowd, and giving her concoctions which are the burnt leaves of another widow worn during her husband's funeral; removing the widow from the husband's house.[11]

See also

References

  1. The Loomba Foundation. (2010). Why the UN Should Recognize International Widows Day. Retrieved June 27, 2010, from The Loomba Foundation: Awareness: http://www.theloombafoundation.org/pdf/why-the-UN-should-recognise-IWD.pdf
  2. The Loomba Foundation. (2010, May 27). Plight of Widows a Global Issue. Retrieved June 27, 2010, from The Loomba Foundation: Awareness: http://www.theloombafoundation.org/pdf/IWD-campaign-launch-may-2010.pdf
  3. Lederer, E. (2010, June 23). Report: Over 115 Million Widows Live in Poverty. Retrieved June 27, 2010, from The Associated Press: http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gNgKvlVIH_8PRBJMtkMkfBHe1-fQD9GGR8NO0
  4. The Loomba Foundation. (2010). Why the UN Should Recognize International Widows Day. Retrieved June 27, 2010, from The Loomba Foundation: Awareness: http://www.theloombafoundation.org/pdf/why-the-UN-should-recognise-IWD.pdf
  5. Lederer, E. (2010, June 23). Report: Over 115 Million Widows Live in Poverty. Retrieved June 27, 2010, from The Associated Press: http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gNgKvlVIH_8PRBJMtkMkfBHe1-fQD9GGR8NO0
  6. Anzia, L. (2007, Nov 5). "Nothing to Go Back To" - The Fate of Widows of Vrindivan, India. Retrieved June 27, 2010, from Women's News Network: http://womennewsnetwork.net/2007/11/05/nothing-to-go-back-to-the-fate-of-the-widows-of-vrindavan-india/
  7. Kamat, J. (2010, June 15). Plight of Widows in India. Retrieved June 27, 2010, from Widows in India: http://www.kamat.com/kalranga/women/widows/
  8. UN Division for the Advancement of Women. (2001). Widowhood: Invisible women, secluded or excluded. UN Reproduction Section.
  9. UN Division for the Advancement of Women. (2001). Widowhood: Invisible women, secluded or excluded. UN Reproduction Section.
  10. Widows' Rights International. (n.d.). Widows' Rights International. Retrieved June 27, 2010, from http://www.widowsrights.org/case.htm
  11. The United Nations. (n.d.). Widows and Orphans Ministry, Ghana. Retrieved June 27, 2010, from UN.org: http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/vaw/ngocontribute/Widows%20and%20Orphans%20Ministry%20_WOM.pdf

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