War, so often horrifically violent and protracted, has become the hallmark of our time in history. And so we have an ever increasing number of women who have lost their husbands (and sons and brothers and fathers) in brutal civil or international wars.
Think of Kashmir. Of Afghanistan. Of Sri Lanka.
Then there’s East Timor. Korea. Vietnam. Cambodia.
Rwanda. Sudan and South Sudan. Democratic Republic of Congo.
Bosnia and Herzegovina. Kosovo. Ukraine.
More recently we’ve been confronted with images from Iraq, Syria, Yemen.
And the countries of Central and South America where drug wars and political violence have resulted in the deaths and disappearance of thousands of men.
We could add to this list many other countries that have been involved in devastating conflicts within our own recent history.
For women in these countries the trauma of living in a war zone, or fleeing as a refugee, is compounded by the fact that the husband, the wage earner, the protector (as he is understood to be in many cultures) is now dead or missing-believed-killed, and they have no means of support. Their plight is even more desperate if they have dependent children.
Add to this the fact that in many countries if a woman cannot prove that her husband has been killed (with a death certificate) then she doesn’t qualify for a war widow’s pension. That’s an utter impossibility for thousands of widows who may never know for sure if and when their husband died.
Even for those who do qualify for war widows’ pensions, life is extremely difficult. Many of these women haven’t had to work outside the home previously, nor do they have education or job skills that would help them earn a living wage. And in countries where women are forbidden to work outside the home, the options become extremely limited.
Since their economic security is gone, their children have to be taken out of school and sent to work (child labour is not uncommon in many of these countries). The girls represent another problem, so many a heartbroken mother will sell her daughter to a trafficker, or marry even an underage daughter to an older man, or will send the girl out to ply the sex trade. Imagine the never-ending shame you would feel if you had been forced to sacrifice your daughter’s future in this way.
War widows are highly vulnerable to exploitation, including even the incentive to become suicide bombers!
surprisingly most war widows suffer from post-traumatic stress, high blood
pressure, depression and sleep problems – and have no money with which to seek
In a hard-hitting speech, Margaret Owen, the grande dame of advocates for widows, urged the UN and governments to recognize the grave situation of war widows, and involve them in peace-building and reconstruction efforts. The speech was given in 2015, but probably is still as relevant now as then.
Below are links to a couple of articles that graphically portray the reality of war widows today. All widows in developing countries need our compassion and support, but war widows seem to be in a class by themselves in terms of their trauma and hopelessness.
has half a million widows, and the
number is increasing, says govt." [Ed. comment: interestingly, the World Widows Report 2015 cites the number of Afghan widows as 2,350,881.]
A common scene in Kabul, a widow begging from a car passenger. (Sayed Salahuddin — AN photo)