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International Widow Day Has Become Global Movement

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A father to the fatherless, a defender of widowsis God in his holy dwelling – Psalm 68:5 (NIV)

The United Nations observes June 23 as International Widows Day, a day designated to draw attention to the experience of, and garner support for, widows around the world.

For many women, especially in developing countries, widowhood leads to a long-term struggle to meet basic needs and retain their human rights and dignity, per the United Nations. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the situation for widows worldwide by separating widows from their usual support network.

Widows are often denied inheritance and property rights and are much less likely to have access to pension and retirement benefits than men, per U.N. statistics. Of the more than 250 million widows around the world, nearly one in 10 live in extreme poverty. 

In some countries, widows are forced to participate in harmful or degrading traditional practices as part of burial and mourning rites.

Reggie Littlejohn, founder and president of Women’s Rights Without Frontierssaid some Christian widows in China are forced to renounce their faith in order to get government aid.  “It is a heartbreak and an outrage that widows and other elderly are forced to renounce their faith in order to receive stipends,” she said.  “For many, they may need these funds to survive.”

She said China also has a skyrocketing rate of senior suicide. The One Child Policy has destroyed the family structure in China. In the past, the Chinese enjoyed large families and it was not a burden for children and grandchildren to support the elderly. Now many elderly are completely abandoned and destitute, especially elderly widows. And the sad solution for many is to end their lives.  “We are extending a lifeline to abandoned widows, who are eternally grateful for the help,” Littlejohn said.

International Widows Day was originated by The Loomba Foundation, which was founded in 1997  by Raj Loomba, a member of the British Parliament. Loomba and his wife Veena formed the organization in honor of his mother, who had been widowed, and in response to the injustices suffered by widows and their children in his native India.

For example, widows in India are sometimes blamed for their husband’s death, according to the Foundation’s website, and their property and wealth is often taken away. It’s considered bad luck for a young woman who is widowed shortly after marriage to return to her birth family. It is often difficult for them to find work or remarry.

The Loomba Foundation led a five-year global campaign for UN recognition. In December 2010, the U.N. General Assembly made a unanimous decision to adopt International Widows Day as an annual global day of action.

The U.N. mandate calls for empowering widows to support themselves and their families and addressing social stigmas that create exclusion and discriminatory or harmful practices, as well as for governments to ensure the rights of widows exist as part of laws.  

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Anne Stych

Anne Stych is a writer in Charlotte, North Carolina.