جلال فونديشن


                      An Afghan Women-led, Women-focused Organization




THE WORLD’S WIDOWS: Ignored, Lost, and Forgotten?


Decades of armed conflict and insecurity left behind some 1.5 to 2 million Afghan widows who continue to live under very difficult situations. Despite the Constitutional guarantee of support to widows, studies reveal that they continue to suffer from destitution, absence of support system, poor health, lack of skills and economic opportunities, social exclusion, and marginalization from all aspects of life. Many of them survive with little support from government and relatives. Without other options, the rest are pushed into slavery, prostitution, substance abuse or roadside pauperism. There has been no recent comprehensive study to provide evidence of their real situation and inform policies because those who are responsible for their well-being are preoccupied with the mainstream issues of insecurity, politics, poverty, graft, and many more.   


The efforts of NGOs and international agencies to provide widows with entrepreneurial support like training, capital, and market support are highly commendable and must be continued and expanded. However, these are not enough. The issues of widows are intermeshed with many mainstream issues from which they are being marginalized. Peace building, for example, should take the perspectives of widows because it is the lack of peace that created the phenomenon of war widows. Politics is central to them because having been marginalized for so long, they need to help elect national leaders who could stand for the interests and concerns of widows nationwide. Graft and corruption is also a serious concern of widows because it is this very issue that robs them of resources and opportunities to rebuild their lives. Needless to say, poverty alleviation is relevant to widows, not only because they are among the most vulnerable, but because they are key to the solution of the problem. Lifting widows from the mire of poverty logically translates into a reduction of 2 million people from the statistics of impoverished Afghans.


The situation of widows in Afghanistan is not an isolated case. There are around 245 million widows worldwide, 100 million of which are barely struggling to survive. Many of them experience targeted murder, rape, prostitution, forced marriage, property theft, eviction, social isolation and physical and psychological abuse. Widows all over the world are ignored, lost, and forgotten in the landscape of national affairs. Wherever there are laws, implementation is weak. And where implementation is possible, not all issues are covered. In many societies, the loss of male protection strip women of social legitimacy for productive social existence. Like an inescapable death sentence, women become widows without their consent and often in ways that radically and irreversibly devastate the social and economic fabrics of their life. Women’s capacity to rise above the shocks of widowhood is encumbered by harsh societal traditions, lack of resources, and indifference by government towards their predicament. 


On the occasion of International Day of Widows, we call upon fellow activists, governments and international agencies to:


a)      Confront gaps in the concepts and definition of widowhood, taking into consideration such circumstances as prolonged disappearance of husband, status of women in quasi-conjugal relationship after the demise of their partner, and other realities experienced by women who lost their husbands inside or outside of formal marriage;


b)      Considering that women outlive their partners in many parts of the world, governments should institutionalize social support for widows that consider their needs throughout their life cycle, including health, welfare, and economic support;


c)       War reparation and rehabilitation programs should consider giving priority to widows and orphans with a vision to compensate the loss of opportunities for education and economic support that were taken away because of the death of their husband/father;


d)      NGOs and civil society organizations should work towards the elimination of traditions that make it difficult for widows to rebuild their lives, including blaming of widows for the death of their husband, ostracizing of widows as harbinger of bad luck, inheriting of widows like a property, denial of their inheritance from their husband and in-laws, vilification of widows with pejorative names, and subjecting them to a lifetime of slave-like servitude; and


e)      NGOs and civil society organizations should work with government and international agencies to create credible data base that provide evidences on the status of widows, mechanisms for solidarity, models of comprehensive legal framework for widows, institutionalized resource allocation, opportunities for capacity building and political commitments from leaders and policy makers.


We need to examine the concepts of marriage, family and wifehood in the light of their implications to widowhood. Let us redeem the concept of family as a source of security, protection and positive individual identity, for women and men alike. As Yakin Erturk said, “The situation of widows should continue to be featured on international fora until they become firmly integrated into the policy agenda.”  His advocacy is as relevant in the international level as it is at the country level. 


Let us stand together to support and give them another chance in life. To all the widows of the world, reach out, speak out, and assert your rights. We stand in solidarity with you. You are never alone.



Founding Chairperson of Jalal Foundation and former Minister of Women, Afghanistan