International Widow’s Day
June 23rd is International Widow’s Day. This observance is dedicated to women who have lost their husbands. In many countries becoming a widow threatens your safety, social status, income, rights, and ability to care for your children. International Widow’s Day calls attention to the plight of women who lose their husbands in countries where widows are stigmatized, ostracized, and victimized.
On International Widow’s Day, we recognize that in many cultures and countries, a woman’s status and value is inseparably tied to her husband. If their husband dies, everything tied to him disappears with it. Many widows are treated as if they are invisible. In some places, widows are demonized and abused. For these women, becoming a widow is not only emotionally painful, but potentially also physically dangerous, and socially disastrous. Socially disastrous means that they are completely ostracized, sometimes even excommunicated.
Dangerous Stigmas – International Widow’s Day
In many countries, particularly Africa, widowhood comes with a dangerous stigma. Some cultures believe that if a husband dies, it is the wife’s fault. It is believed that they are cursed or witches. There are horrific rituals required of widows as a rite of mourning or burial. The rituals vary by country and culture. Some of rituals put the widow’s life at risk, and most are humiliating and demeaning.
In some parts of Africa a widow is forced to have sex with another man. Some indicate that it should be the first man they see; others specify a man that is designated, or the brother’s of the deceased man. If the woman does not, it is believed that harm will come to her children. This act is considered a cleansing ritual. When you consider the prevalence of AIDS in countries that hold these beliefs, it is easy to see how this ritual is not only disturbing but also potentially life threatening.
Shame About Being a Widow
Some rituals require widows to drink the water used to clean the dead body of their husband. In some places, widows are forbidden from bathing for months on end. Skin diseases often occur as a result, as can issues such as gastroenteritis and typhoid. Some widows are required to sit on a mat, completely naked, and cry and scream at specified times. Some widows are prohibited from feeding themselves and must rely on others to feed them, which often results in malnourishment.
Once a woman’s husband dies, she may be refused her inheritance, and her land rights may be stripped from her. Often times, widows are forced out of their homes. They may also be physically, mentally, or sexually abused, and sometimes killed as a result of their husband’s death. If the widow hopes to escape the discrimination and exclusion of being a widow, she may have to remarry a male relative of her late husband. Sometimes, a widow may be forced to do this, whether she agrees or not. From culture to culture, one thing remains consistent in the mistreatment of widows: widows are shamed for the death of their husband. The rituals and rites forced upon widows may vary by region, but all of the women who have lost their husbands in nations who mistreat widows are made to feel ashamed, dishonored, and degraded.
Problems for Children of Widows
Children of widows also face great hardships. Because their mothers are socially and economically ostracized, many children who just suffered the loss of their father are forced to quit school and find jobs to support the family. Girls are particularly vulnerable in these circumstances because they may be forced to work in prostitution, marry early, trafficked, or sold. Widowed mothers do this not because they want to, but because they cannot take care of them. Sometimes, although hard to imagine, child brides will have a food, water, clothes and shelter if they marry.
The majority of time, children are withdrawn from school to go to work immediately. Child labor is sometimes the only source of income in families where the father/husband has died. These children who are forced into child labor never return to school. They, therefore, spend the rest of their lives working menial job. The vast majority will never have gainful employment. Often, this means perpetuating a cycle of poverty.
Widows and Suicide
There is such a profound and engrained sense of stigma for widows in some cultures that women who have lost their husbands sometimes commit suicide. They do this rather than be forced to carry on living with the intense shame and dehumanization caused by widowhood. A very large percentage of widows suffer from severe anxiety and depression because of the way they are treated. This kind of depression has terrible ramifications for the children, who are grieving. Children of widowed women are forced to grow up in poverty, many times, despite the status they held or the lifestyle they were accustomed to when their father was alive. The loss of the male head of the household is devastating for all immediate members of his family.
I appreciate you taking the time to read about International Widow’s Day. The plight of widows is a little known fact in the western world. In fact, many census reports, statistical analyses, and population data collection fail to represent widows because they become invisible in their culture.
Personalized Cause and Awareness Blog About International Widow’s Day
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