• uoefemsoc

The Forgotten Women

By Heather Rainey

As the number of widows and wives of the missing continues to grow, the international

community remains silent on this ever-pressing issue. The neglect from national

governments and other global institutions, including the United Nations (UN), serves to

increase the poverty, displacement and vulnerability that widows and their children face


Areas such as Yemen that are fighting severe political instability are also dealing with

underlying social issues including unemployment, corruption and extreme food shortages.

According to UN statistics, 2020 has marked the fourth consecutive year of the world’s

worst humanitarian crisis. It is universally accepted that poverty significantly affects women

more than men, as it exacerbates their already disadvantaged position in society. However,

the status of widowhood adds extra layers of discrimination – in areas like Yemen, and

many other middle eastern countries, a widow has no claim on her husband’s property;

thus, widows are left with no property or assets. The normative social ideal of paternalism

means that women are expected to have a male relative, or husband to provide for her;

hence the high levels of illiteracy in widows. This leaves these women with no back-up plan

for when her husband passes away, often forcing them into informal labour subjecting them

and their children to further discrimination and exposure to violence.

Furthermore, widows in South Asia are often subject to horrific patriarchal rituals, including

being forced to drink the bathwater of their husband’s dead bodies and have unprotected

sex to ‘cleanse themselves of the sin of causing their husbands death’. According to the UN

India is home to around 42 million widows, many of whom are children. The intersection

with child brides again further complicates the issue. Many widows are forced to sell off

their children as brides, again contributing to the cycle of violence for women. These

inhumane rituals strip widows of any agency or dignity and contribute heavily to the

operation of patriarchal norms.

The plight of widows is something that urgently needs addressing but the lack of official

government statistics on the matter adds to the difficulty of grasping a true understanding

of just how immense the scale of this issue is. One of the NGO’s taking on the task of

supporting widows regardless of age, religion, ethnicity, caste, class or nationality is Widows

for Peace through Democracy (WPD) which aims to allow widows to enjoy their human

rights to the full. WPD has ECOSOC consultative status at the UN, meaning that they can

participate fully in the UN system, including attending sessions, submitting official reports

on widow’s concerns and hosting UN side events. If you are interested in learning more

about their work, signing up to their newsletter or donating, please follow the link below.