Today is international widow’s day when countries around the world recognize the violence, discrimination, and ostracism millions of widows face, and celebrate their important contributions. If the world would have been a fairer place, international widows day would have been a day of celebrations and not just an opportunity to highlight the issue and raise awareness about their basic rights. Widows in India may no longer be throwing themselves on the funeral pyres of their husbands, but life for them remains hard. Many of them have to escape from brutal family homes and some get flung out by sons and daughters-in-laws unwanted baggage.
According to the Home Ministry’s National Crime Bureau of India, violence against women is the fastest-growing crime. Every 34 minutes a woman is raped, and every 43 minutes a woman is kidnapped. Millions of widows continue to be deprived of their basic dignity as a kind of atonement for some sin. It’s the punishment for being a woman and a widow in India.To top it all off, the estimated 40 million women go from being called “she” to “it” when they lose their better-halves. Tara Rana, social worker and Communication Officer, NGO Maitri, said, “Every month we are approached by approximately 30 new widows. Because we can’t help all of them, we have a screening process to determine who is most needy and take those women into our care.”
The annual global day of action to highlight the desperate plight of millions of widows all over the world was launched by The Loomba Foundation in 2005 and following a five-year campaign was adopted unanimously by the United Nations General Assembly in 2010.
With conflicts in the Middle East, North Africa and other parts of the world claiming hundreds of thousands of lives annually, the population of widows has witnessed a significant rise. “Worst affected by conflict are widows in Afghanistan, Iraq, South Sudan, Central African Republic, and Syria; by the Boko Haram insurgency, those in northeast Nigeria, southeast Niger, west Chad and north Cameroon,” explains The Loomba Foundation’s 2015 World Widows Report “In Sub-Saharan Africa, the worst conditions are faced by evicted and abandoned widows with dependants and by those caught up in the Ebola crisis areas, which is further exacerbated by traditional ‘cleansing’ rituals.”
Some of these cleansing rituals include the practice of widows drinking the water with which their dead husband’s body has been washed and to have sex with a relative. “Widows are often stigmatized by their families and communities. Many suffer discrimination based on age and gender. Some have lived lives marked by physical and sexual abuse,”UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said in his statement on International Widows’s Day.
“Older widows often have few economic assets, after a lifetime of hard but unpaid work.”
With more than 38 million widowed women living in extreme poverty, many are forced to engage in “exchange sex” and “survival sex” relationships to live. While women in underdeveloped and developing countries who have lost their husbands are made to suffer considerably, those in developed countries also face a number of setbacks. “In developed countries, the value of women’s pensions can be some 40 percent lower than men’s,” the UN Secretary General explained.
“On International Widows’ Day, let us pledge to make widows more visible in our societies, and to support them in living productive, equal and fulfilling lives,” he stated. “The 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda with its pledge to leave no one behind has a particular resonance for widows, who are among the most marginalized and isolated.”
In India, though Hindu Succession Act 1969 legally provides widows ownership of the property through inheritance, it had not been of much benefit as it remained only on paper. Let’s take a pledge today to make this world better for these widows or ‘Vidhvaas’