Really? That assessment from a widow shocked me.
I hope it shocks you too... and that you're here to join me in what is often a painful journey, uncovering the truth about the lives, the destitution of widows. Let's go...
In the developing world, widows experience a very traumatic shift into a new and cruel identity on the death of their husband.
They’re often stripped of all property and possessions.
They’re often thrown out of their home to fend for themselves.
In some countries they’re considered bad luck, a curse – and therefore forbidden to participate in any social or religious gatherings.
They may be stripped of everything beautiful.
They often have to resort to begging or prostitution just to survive.
They may be forced to endure degrading and dehumanizing traditional rituals that are supposed to “cleanse them”.
In some countries they may be considered unmarriageable, while in others the widow is forced to marry a relative of her late husband.
You'll find a detailed discussion of the life of widows in several regions of the world elsewhere on this website; this page just hints at the conditions they face.
In India there are over 48 million widows, ranging in age from mere children to very old women. On their husband's death they are stripped of all jewelry, beautiful clothing, their bindi (symbol of female energy) and often have their beautiful dark hair shaved off.
No, they don’t have to burn to death on their husband’s funeral pyre in the ancient rite of sati, but wouldn’t their present reality seem to be worse, a living death?
When we start to read about African countries, we discover what extreme discrimination and cruelty looks like. Yes, there are tribal and regional differences, but throughout Sub-Saharan countries the landscape of widows’ lives is consistently and heart-breakingly bleak.
In Islamic countries (North Africa, Middle East, Muslim countries of the Indian subcontinent, etc.) the claim is that widows have considerable rights under (Islamic) law. Even so, many factors contribute to real discrimination against them, which means many live in the most extreme poverty, or as virtual slaves in a relative’s home.
One of the unforeseen effects of the government’s One Child Policy in China is that thousands of widows in rural areas are completely bereft of support, and the ancient tradition of caring for the elders has vanished; so we find shockingly high rates of suicide among widows.
Other countries in Southeast Asia undoubtedly have significant populations of widows, but information about them is sparse.
And then there are the war widows. I hadn’t even thought of these as a distinct category, but my research showed me the face of literally millions of women, many very young and recently married, whose lives have been forever shattered by the death of their spouse in conflict or genocide.
They share in the neglect and ill-treatment that is common to so many widows, but their situation is even worse because in many instances there is no proof of their husband’s death, so they cannot claim the meagre pension given to war widows.
Yes, there are sad stories of women in other parts of the world (e.g. Central and South America) who are suffering incredible hardship simply because they are widowed. But my capacity to read and report on the tragic plight of these women has reached saturation point.
If there’s no mention on this site of the part of the world that you’re most concerned about, may I encourage you to do your own Internet search, or connect with a nonprofit that works there.
Speaking of nonprofits, I’ll introduce you to a number of NGOs (non-governmental humanitarian organizations) and charities who are passionate about changing the world of widows. For some, it’s globally; for others, it’s in at least one country.
Many of them work persistently to get legislation passed by governments in their focus countries that will uphold the rights of widows.
Others give the widows the tools they need to earn a living, send their children to school, and win identity and respect within their communities.
When I read about the work they do and the impact it’s having, it brings me hope. It lifts the despair I feel when I read about the conditions in which millions of widows still live.
Maybe you’ll find a nonprofit here that particularly resonates with you. If so, I hope you will subscribe to their newsletter so that you expand your awareness of the impact of widowhood on these, our sisters.
This website is where the exploration begins.
For those who prefer the up-close impact of a movie or a novel, go to this section for an experience you won't soon forget.
If you prefer to read from the pages of a book, you may wish to download and save the 96-page ebook Empowering Widows, which is simply a compilation of these pages under one cover. Download it above or from the link in the navigation bar on the left.
While you are welcome to print it, I would recommend that you save and read it on your computer. That way you can easily click on the many links throughout. They take you to websites, stories, videos, and other resources.
Thank you for finding a place in your heart to care about widows. Let's start our journey with a look at the destitution they experience in developing countries.