We can’t forget Nepal’s widows on International Widows Day

Tracy Ghale – WNN SOAPBOX

Nepal woman widow
A Nepali woman who has lost her husband clings to her child. Image: Brendan Brady/IRIN

(WNN) Kathmandu, NEPAL, SOUTH ASIA: June 23, 2013 is just another day in the calendar for most people going about their daily lives; waiting to catch the bus to work; thinking about what their children are doing in school; appointments for the day.

According to The Loomba Foundation, over 115 million widows around the world live in abject poverty under oppressive customs and traditions, especially in developing and least developed countries, June 23rd is a significant day in their lives full of trouble and strife.

I am talking about the widows from these parts of the world who might not be even aware of the significance of this day; that this day is for them and about them. Maybe some would be aware of the day due to various NGOs and CSOs doing their best to raise awareness amongst an invisible section of society. Cultural taboos and strict rites are often harmful towards women with no disregard for their basic human rights.

It was a hard won battle when the United Nations 65th General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution on 22 December, 2010 to recognize June 23rd as International Widows Day, 5 years after the first International widows day was launched by the Loomba Foundation in 2005.

Widowhood is generally associated with older women; but there is compelling evidence that there is a staggering number of young widows, women who have lost their husbands in the prime of their lives; women who lost their husbands during internal conflict in countries like Nepal where the recent Maoist insurgency ended leaving over 9,000 conflict affected widows; in Sri Lanka the defeat of the Tamil Tigers ended after two and half decades leaving an estimated 40,000 widows to fend for themselves on both sides of the conflict.

According to the Jalal Foundation, there are an estimated 2 million widows in Afghanistan, the majority are young and of reproductive age.

Maya Pant (name changed), a young woman of 20 with a child on the way had her whole world crumble when her husband was killed by the rebels in 2003. Her upper Brahmin caste family traditions demanded that she now live as a hermit, in perpetual mourning wearing only white.  With no means of an income and very little education, earning a living in the Western region of Nepal proved to be difficult.

Maya had a tough decision to make.

Her high caste Brahmin background meant she was forbidden to butcher and sell meat, but she had a baby and herself to think about. Eventually Maya did make the difficult decision to become a butcher but she felt ashamed and humiliated. Her in laws were not supportive of her small business and would taunt and abuse her. This was 10 years ago.

Today Maya has become a strong leader of her local widows group and is an activist on the frontline against discrimination of widows and an advocate for the invisible issue of widowhood in her community. She and thousands like her are bringing much needed focus and attention to widowhood in Nepal.

The June 23rd date is about her and millions of widows like her.

It is to acknowledge the grief and suffering that women like her went through and most importantly the strength and courage it took to overcome trauma that brought her to where she is today. Independent, free, strong and a role model for those around her.

It’s unfortunate that widowhood is still associated with negativity, grief and bad luck by a strong patriarchal tradition that still dictate lives of women. But stories like Maya’s show us that there are small revolutions taking place around us, few and far between but significant and catalytic nonetheless.

I take this day as a spotlight on these women, their stories, their pain and their successes; a sobering thought the next time we think of it as just another day.


Tracy Ghale is the Program Manager at Women for Human Rights, single women group in Kathmandu, Nepal.


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