Marriage is a dream of many women. It brings a sense of love and security from your husband and provides a woman with a respectable status in the society. But with the death of her husband, the world of woman falls apart and she has to dwell in a cruel world, full of misery and shame for the rest of her life. There is no group more affected by the sin of omission than widows. They are painfully absent from the statistics of many developing countries, and they are rarely mentioned in the multitude of reports on women’s poverty, development, health or human rights published in the last twenty-five years. Among 250 million widows residing worldwide, 115 million of them are indigent and deprived by the society in every aspect.
A large number of social cultures throughout the world, brand widows as a curse and they are at times blamed for the demise of their husbands, irrespective of the original cause of death. As a result, they are subjected to a number of humiliations and denial in the name of religious and customary rites. Most cultures deny rights of widow on the husband’s property and are driven out from their homes until and unless they marry their brother-in-law. Even worse, they might be abused physically or even murdered to keep them from claiming any inheritance and land rights.
Those who are spared their lives are left homeless, fighting with poverty to survive. Illiteracy, lack of training and their inability to understand the true rights of widows add to their ordeal and begging remains the only option open to endure through poverty while some are thrown into the filthy world of prostitution. Their impoverished conditions and lack of economic resources worsen their health too. Widows become more vulnerable to malnutrition and inaccessibility to proper medical help deteriorates their condition further.
To add to their pity, men take advantage of their helplessness and widows fall prey to their lust. War widows of Afghanistan and Sri Lanka are found to go through such similar trauma in their life. The accounts of the ordeal of widows depict the heartlessness of mankind. Every country has their own set of rituals for widows. African women like those of Kenya, Ghana and Uganda have to go through widowhood rites to prove her purity and innocence in her husband’s death. Such rituals calls for sleeping beside the corpse for as long as three days, to bathing naked in front of everybody and having intercourse with a stranger.
Nepalese widows are suspected to be witches and made an outcast or beaten to death by the in-laws and neighbours. The life of Hindu women is also jeopardized as soon as her husband passes away. She has to remain clad in white sari, shun jewellery and allowed a meagre, vegetarian meal only once a day. Though, with initiation of women empowerment, the conditions of widows in India have improved but those living in rural areas are still subjected to these torturous customs. Male chauvinism has kept many women of Caribbean and Latin America, in subordinate roles and discriminated against, especially in education and employment opportunities.
The plight of widows has gone unnoticed through several centuries. However, with increasing awareness of human rights, people have drawn their attention to the bereaved life of widows. Programs are now held to provide support to widow women and make their life more secure, both socially and financially. An international law for widows has been implemented to put an end to their suffering and help them acquire the rights which they truly deserve.
Education and financial independence are the prime requisites to free women of the plight of widowhood. Literacy will help them get employment, bestow on them the ability to understand their rights and make their own decisions. Thus they will be freed of the shackles of shame and violence as well as poverty and give them a respectful life even after the loss of their husbands. Liya Das. (TCC)