“Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress …” (James 1:27, NLT)
Mom, I don’t want to make you sad, and it sounds kind of weird, but it’s International Widows Day today.
That was the text message I received last Friday from my daughter, Emilie, while I was at the hair salon. I burst out laughing.
“Why do we need a day to acknowledge widows?” I said to my stylist.
“It’s not enough you have to deal with all the firsts and anniversaries, and now this?” he said.
“So what do you do on International Widows Day?” I wondered aloud. “Do you celebrate with a party, as if being a widow is a good thing? Do you say ‘Happy Widows Day’ to the widows in your life? Or do you gather the widows and orphans and have a good cry together?”
I was a little incredulous – and curious.
So I went home and researched what it was all about. Turns out International Widows Day (IWD) is no laughing matter.
The day was introduced by the Loomba Foundation in 2005 to “address the poverty and injustice faced by widows and their children in many countries,” and officially recognized by the United Nations in 2010. It is observed annually on June 23 – the date in 1954 that Lord Raj Loomba’s mother became a widow with seven children at the age of 37.
In the Looma Foundation’s “World’s Widow Report” released in 2016, Lord Loomba said, ““Widowhood is a hidden calamity. When an earthquake, tsunami or any other natural calamity happens, the world takes notice. We can measure the number of people who are killed and the financial consequences. The calamity of widowhood is far greater, affecting almost one seventh of humanity, yet it is largely invisible.”
This story from CNN by Alexandra King and Masuma Ahujad and the UN’s report here made me realize that widows in other parts of the world have a lot more to deal with than just the grief of losing a spouse.
For starters, loss of income reduces widows – often with no marketable skills – and their children to extreme poverty levels. Discrimination from family and community members – due to cultural perceptions in some countries of widows being cursed or evil – torments the women, leaving them isolated, lonely, fearful, confused and overwhelmed as they struggle to provide for their children.
Some are forced to marry their husband’s brother. Others are subjected to degrading and life-threatening mourning and burial rites and other forms of widow abuse. They lose not only their husbands and often everything they have, but also their position in society and basic human rights; many suffer violence – and even death – at the hands of their own family members.
One of the women featured in CNN’s story is a 52-year-old widow from Kenya who lost her husband 10 years ago when he was murdered in tribal clashes. She says, “… To be a widow in my country, you will be neglected by relatives, isolated by people, oppressed and denied your rights by family members, society and local government officials.”
A 75-year-old widow from India says that after her second husband’s death, “his children and my only daughter started beating and abusing me, threatened me with dire consequences, and forced me to sign property papers.”
Definitely puts my own situation in perspective. It’s true, I’ve suffered a significant loss of income since losing Paul (as do the majority of widows in the United States), but my family and I are not in poverty. And though I continue to feel the emotional roller coaster of emotions as I navigate the grief process, I haven’t lost my status as a human being with dignity and basic human rights. Sure, I feel overwhelmed at times trying to manage the demands of being the head of household, but I have tons of support from family and loving friends who are all too happy to respond to my requests for help.
Though I dislike the real and painful effects I’m experiencing as a widow, I have much to be thankful for – and many sisters in widowhood to pray for.
Thanks to Emilie, I’ll know what to do when International Widows Day roles around next year. Instead of cracking up in disbelief, I’ll turn my attention, and that of those around me, to the plight of the estimated 259 million widows worldwide who suffer prejudice and discrimination. And I’ll thank God for those who work so tirelessly to care for us in our distress.