Today is International Widows’ Day. Adopted on February 23, 2011, International Widows’ Day serves as a global reminder of the economic, social, and health consequences that arise upon the death of a woman’s spouse. As such, International Widows’ Day creates a space for conversation on widows’ issues and encourages individuals, organizations, and governments alike to advocate for widows’ empowerment.
The Loomba Foundation, the main advocate behind the creation of International Widows’ Day, works to help widows and their children around the world. In 2012, UN Women and The Loomba Foundation launched a three-year project to empower widows through global advocacy and economic empowerment.
“No woman should lose her rights when she loses her husband – but an estimated 115 million widows live in poverty, and 81 million have suffered physical abuse. Girls [that marry] much older men are especially vulnerable. Let us use International Widows’ Day to advocate for the rights of all widows so they can enjoy better lives and realize their great potential to contribute to our world.”
~ Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon
In addition to the sexism and discrimination all women endure, widows also suffer from consequences specific to widowhood. From food security to economic stability to community social status, widows around the world suffer from a range of hardships.
FACTS ON WIDOWHOOD:
- Some widows are children or teenagers and are forced to live with the associated stigma and discrimination their entire lives.
- Over 500 million children of widows fall victim to an underworld of forced servitude, disease, homelessness, violence, and a denied education.
- More than 1.5 million children of widows will die before their fifth birthday.
- At least 245 million women around the world are widows and more than 115 million widows live in poverty.
- 81 million widows have been physically, sexually or otherwise abused – almost one-third of all widows in the world today.
- Some widows are accused of being evil, or a bad omen, or are blamed for the death of their husbands.
- Some widows are targeted for torture and even murder.
- Some widows are raped in so called ‘cleansing’ rituals.
- Some widows are forced into prostitution or remarriage, many are socially excluded and denied their rightful inheritance.
- Often rejected by their own families, millions of widows have no rights, no voice, no choice.
- Widows face double discrimination; they are women and they are widows.
“Across the world, widows suffer dreadful discrimination and abuse…it is a human rights catastrophe.” ~ Cherie Blair, President of the Loomba Foundation.
WIDOWHOOD AROUND THE WORLD:
- GHANA: The only country in the world with legislation that criminalizes acts of cruelty towards widows, including the practice of harmful customs and rituals. However, widows continue to fall victim to ‘cleansing’ rituals.
- AFGHANISTAN: The war in Afghanistan has resulted in more than 2 million Afghani widows, a country with a population of only 26.2 million.
- NEPAL: A major Nepalese belief is that, upon the husband’s death, widows become witches with dark powers. As a result, they are often highly discriminated and banned from attending public events. In 2012, a 40-year-old widow was burnt alive after accusations of witchcraft.
- Countries with the highest number of widows in 2010 include China (43 million), India (42.4 million), The United States (13.6 million), Indonesia (9.4 million), Japan (7.4 million), Russia (7.1 million), Brazil (5.6 million), Germany (5.1 million), and Bangladesh and Vietnam (4.7 million).
For information specifically related to how widowhood impacts food security, read my recent post on Food Tank.
Join the conversation on Twitter using #IntlWidowsDay. To learn more about the plight of widows around the world, please see the following:
- “The Mourning After.” The New York Times, 2007.
- “Widows in Poverty: Over 115 Million Widows Live in Devastating Poverty.” The Huffington Post, 2010.
- “Widowhood and armed conflict: challenges faced and strategies forward.” International Committee of the Red Cross, 1999.
- “Cambodia: Land Grant Gives Widow Hope to Escape Poverty.” The World Bank, 2011.
- PHOTOS: “The Shocking Indignities Widows Face.” The Daily Beast, 2010.