That’s how long the United Nations has recognized International Widows Day – just ten years. Despite the fact that widows have faced high levels of discrimination, poverty and violence for literally thousands of years, it wasn’t until 2011 that the UN officially had an “International Widows Day.” Listen, I’m really glad that we finally have a day to raise awareness about widows around the world, but….it’s about time!
Of course, being a widow in many parts of the world is not just about grief. Unfortunately in many cases, it’s also about the loss of basic stability and human rights. When I start to read about widows across the globe, sometimes it’s almost too overwhelming to really comprehend. Because here’s the thing that many of you know: simply grieving the loss of a life partner can made doing almost anything else feel impossible, especially in those first few months.
It’s not like we’re talking about a fringe group of people here. In fact, the UN estimates that there are more than 258 million widows around the world. It’s a number that’s likely to rise significantly as Covid continues to ravage many parts of the world. In developing countries, the areas of concern that the UN states are particularly relevant for widows are poverty, violence, health and conflict-related situations. While the UN rightfully focuses on the basic needs and rights of widows, it was shocking to me that in all of the data that I poured over on their website, grief was never the focus. Basic survival was.
It’s hopeful that at least one study has found that – in at least one northern-European country – widows may have fewer social and financial problems than in the past. In fact, in their decades-long study, researchers found that both stigma and financial burdens are less for many widows today compared to a generation ago. Though there are many factors for this, one of the big ones is financial – more supports for widows mean more stability when a spouse dies. What do I take from this? Widows around the world need support and recognition.
And yet, it’s been slow in coming for widows in the developed world, to say nothing of widows in poorer countries. Only periodically have major organizations focused specifically on widows, such as this panel on Widowhood and armed conflict put on by the Red Cross – and that was in 1999! (Yes, there have been other conferences and papers, but it struck me that this specific one is referenced everywhere and is from over two decades ago.) Many organizations try to help women around the world, which is laudable, and yet, widows are often given little to no specific attention. It’s critical that the specific issues faced by widows worldwide become more of a focus of aid groups, international organizations, and development money coming from wealthy countries, as the UN called for last year, on International Widows Day. After all, there are hundreds of millions of widows who face terrible problems that go far beyond those outlined of my blog.
I’m remembering my fellow widows around the world today. And if you’re one of those widows reading from around the United States or anywhere around world, I’d love to hear from you in the comments. My heart is with you.