“Widows”: The Invisible Women
Most of the people fail to understand the plight of widows in our society. There are over 250 million widows in the world, out of which about 115 million are barely able to sustain themselves. They are looked down upon simply because they are widows. In a country like India, the situation is worse because the young widows are considered ominous or evil, just because their husbands died after few years of marriage, and they are somehow held responsible for that and ostracized from the society. This prevents them from leading a normal life after their husbands’ death.
As per statistics, more than 80 million widows have been abandoned by their families simply for being widows. An unidentified number of widows have been raped, murdered and tortured. Some are forced into prostitution because of the unwelcome behaviour they receive by the society and the unemployment that accompanies it. Many are subjected to property theft, social isolation, physical and psychological abuse. Re-marriage is often not an option available to them because it is hard to find people who are willing to accept widows as a part of their family. In our society, it is all the more an uphill task because of the superstitious beliefs attached to widows. Not even the innocent children of these of these widows are spared. These children are subject to undernourishment, rape, child labour, child marriage, trafficking, illiteracy, loss of schooling and homelessness. This abuse and horror is not limited to countries of the global south. It is also prevalent in Central Asia and Europe. What is shocking is that people know very little about the pain and suffering that widows and their children undergo, and the stigma and discrimination they face. So what if a woman is a widow? Is she not human? Why is she considered worthless and undesirable? A woman is denied basic human rights just because she lost her husband. She is ill treated due to adverse circumstances that surround her, but which are beyond her control. Therefore, in order to spread awareness about the situation and create conditions for the betterment of widows, International Widows’ Day is celebrated annually on 23rd June. The idea was conceived by the Loomba Foundation at the House of Lords in London in 2005.
The date was chosen because on this day Pushpa Wati Loomba, the force behind the foundation, became a widow. The foundation has been advocating Widows’ Rights for 16 years. They achieved success when the day was formally adopted by the United Nations in 2010. The UN has called upon its member states and appealed to other regional and international institutions and organizations to take immediate measures to improve the situation of widows and their children. Although nation states have taken effective measures, the stigma and prejudices that prevail in society are major hindrances. So far the situation in India goes the Widow Protection Bill has been drafted by the Sulabh International for the protection of the 40 million widows in India. The widows across the nation have appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to introduce the draft bill in the monsoon session of the Parliament. It remains to be seen whether the Prime Minister will hear their plea or not. But it is imperative that states act fast to better the deteriorating condition of widows. We can contribute our bit by not being superstitious and subjecting widows to any sort of discrimination- not attending family functions, living alone in a dingy room and wearing white clothes. All these are irrational practices, which do more harm than good to anyone. As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has rightly said, “No woman should lose her rights when she loses her husband”; we must ensure that she does not.
About the Author: This article is contributed by Kudrat Agarwal, our Intern.