International Widow Day
June 23rd is celebrated as International Widow Day, which was initiated by Ms. Cherie Blair in the year 2004. Since its commemoration this day has been celebrated by Women for Human Rights (hereafter referred to as WHR), in Nepal with different programs. This year it was celebrated in the open space of Basantapur Durbar Square, Kathmandu where elderly single women from different districts were felicitated. Ms. Sahana Pradhan, Former Foreign Minister, Ms. Chitra Lekha Yadav, Former deputy speaker, were present in the program and they highlighted the importance of widow’s rights and applauded male’s participation in the program. Besides, Ms. Lily Thapa, founder of WHR and Ms. Chandrika Bhattrai, Chairperson, WHR highlighted the current situation of widows in Nepal. Along with felicitation of aged single women, stationery materials were also provided to the children of women who lost their husbands in a decade long conflict in Nepal.
But the problem of widows do not come to end from these celebrations, still a lot is to be done in this issue. In Nepal widows are not only looked down upon but are also treated as inauspicious. They are not allowed to wear colorful dresses, are prohibited to participate in auspicious occasions such as wedding ceremonies, religious festivals etc. Widow marriage is not accepted throughout the country but if the wife dies, husband can marry within 45 days, which clearly defines the prevalence of male domination in the Nepalese social structure. Likewise, the child marriage and mismatched marriage has further escalated the problem and has resulted in a very harsh life of widows. Moreover they are also sexually abused by their in-laws but cannot raise her voice due to fear of the society. Till 2002 women were not able to inherit their husband’s property but after the 11th amendment of the Civil Code, the property rights of women was recognized and widows were also given share in husbands property. But the women are still deprived of getting their share because the in-laws make illegal claim in the property and women being uneducated does not have any knowledge of her rights and is left in the streets with her children.
According to the survey of WHR, 40% widows are below or of 20 years of age, 67% are of 20-35 age group with 3-4 children, 29% are illiterate and only 2% have attained higher education where as 10% are internally displaced due to armed conflict. The above mentioned data clearly shows that majority of the widows are of young age but in Nepal widow allowance is given to those widows who are of 60 plus; which depicts the lethargic attitude of government towards widows. The increased number of young widows is one of the results of a decade long armed conflict and with no education and skills their livelihood is at stake. They are the most vulnerable group and can easily be the prey of human traffickers.
The problems associated with a widow are immense and needs to be addressed promptly. To address their issues every individual is to be sensitized and policy level implementation is also necessary. The currently being drafted constitution of Nepal should also incorporate the issues associated with widows and the rights of widows be ensured so that they can neither be manipulated nor suppressed. And moreover every country should recognize the rights of widows and recognize them as an asset of every nation.