You are on page 1of 14

Widows in Our Society

Widows in Our Society: How Widows are being Discriminated

Rakhi Mun Nessa ID# !" 11# $#

%N&1 $: 'd(anced )om*osition Section: " 'bdus Se+im ,'SmS*ring " .

Widows in Our Society Introduction /My husband *assed away near+y one year ago0 I am trying to continue my +i1e as


a widow0 My in2+aws3 and *arents3 1ami+y turned their back on me a1ter my husband4s death0 %(en my neighbours with whom we had c+ose ties 1or years5 cut o11 communication with me a1ter I became a widow0 What hurts me more than being +e1t a+one in +i1e is gossi* in my neighbourhood about me0/ 6hose words be+ong to Moni 'kter5 a widow trying to stand erect in +i1e des*ite many cha++enging di11icu+ties0 She says she3s o(erwhe+med by a series o1 *rob+ems5 but what saddens her most is the *re7udice she e8*eriences as a widow and thus as a /*otentia+ threat/ to other women5 who 1ear widows may break u* their 1ami+ies0 Widows +ike Moni 'kter 1aced with mu+ti*+e di11icu+ties0 On the one hand5 they are trying to continue their +i(es des*ite a++ the di11icu+ties5 and on the other5 they are trying to o(ercome this *re7udice which turn their +i1e tragic5 miserab+e and into+erab+e0 6he di11icu+t situation 1aced by 9enga+i widows was corroborated by a recent re*ort re+eased by a :S2based research organi;ation0 'ccording to the re*ort5 re+eased on <une "# by Wor+d=ub+icO*inion0org5 mi++ions o1 women in many *arts o1 the wor+d are 1acing discrimination and abuse sim*+y because they ha**en to be widows0 6he re*ort re(ea+ed that 9ang+adesh was 1orth a1ter South >orea5 6urkey and India in terms o1 discrimination against widows0 'ccording to the re*ort5 around ? *ercent o1 the genera+ *o*u+ation in 9ang+adesh thinks that widows 1ace discrimination0 In this research *a*er I sha++ 1ocus main+y how widows are discriminated in the conte8t o1 9ang+adesh society0

Widows in Our Society Ways o1 Widows Discriminated In a de(e+o*ing country +ike 9ang+adesh widowhood re*resents a /socia+ death/ 1or women0 It is not mere+y that they ha(e +ost their husbands5 the main breadwinner

and su**orter o1 their chi+dren5 but widowhood robs them o1 their status and consigns them to the (ery margins o1 society where they su11er the most e8treme 1orms o1 discrimination and stigma0 't 1irst5 society +ooks at a widow as a curse0 %(en today widows are accused o1 being @res*onsib+e3 1or their husband3s death0 When her husband dies5 a woman is stri**ed o1 her own *+ace in society: A>ee* your eyes downcast0 Bou are a widow5 now0C my mother2in2+aw ordered me0 ABou ha(e eaten u* my son5 so you must su11er0C In 9enga+i society5 widows e8*erience tremendous *sycho+ogica+ and societa+ bruta+ity in the name o1 socia+ ru+es and norms0 Sometimes widows are not in(ited in a wedding ceremony 1or her bad +uck0 6han they become burden on both in2+aws and *arents 1ami+y0 ' widow +oses a+most e(ery right in her husband3s house and there is no2one in her 1ather3s house to take res*onsibi+ity 1or her0 In this situation she is in a big di+emma0 It3s common in our society that widow su11er 1rom (erba+ and *hysica+ harassment0 It is widows who are o1ten (ictims o1 ra*e es*ecia++y by their brother2in2+aws5 and many o1 the (ernacu+ar words 1or /widow/ in 9ang+adesh are *e7orati(e and mean /*rostitute5/ /witch5/ or /sorceress0/ 6he terrib+e stigma and shame o1 widowhood *roduces se(ere de*ression in widows which sometimes resu+t their suicide0 Some in2 +aws *ersecute5 beat5 torture5 and e(en arrange the murder o1 a widow0

Widows in Our Society 6hey sometimes de*ri(ed 1rom their death husbands inherited wea+th0 In the book =rinci*+es o1 Mohammedan Eaw by Mu++a stated A:nder Is+amic Eaw5 widows are entit+ed to inherit at +east 1F?th o1 the dead husband3s *ro*erty and +and0C In

*ractice5 this share is 1reGuent+y @managed3 and then taken by the brothers2in2+aw0 In a 1..$ 9ang+adeshi sur(ey on *ro*erty inheritance5 on+y "$H o1 widows had recei(ed their right1u+ share in the inheritance 1rom a deceased 1ather5 and on+y #"H 1rom their husbands0 In Mus+im communities5 widows were treated as their sons3 de*endents0 I1 a widow has adu+t sons5 she may ha(e some measure o1 security0 Without an adu+t ma+e to *ro(ide su**ort widows 1ind it hard and sometimes im*ossib+e to c+aim their +aw1u+ *ro*erty rights0 9ut i1 she is chi+d+ess or has on+y daughters5 she usua++y 1aces mu+ti*+e *rob+ems5 inc+uding iso+ation5 denia+ o1 +and5 and e(en death0 '+ong with economic de*ri(ation5 when a woman becomes a widow5 stringent mora+ code is im*osed on her5 whereby her emotiona+ and *hysica+ needs are not taken care o10 When the husband is a+i(e she is su**osed to deck herse+1 in co+or1u+ attire5 wear ornaments5 and wear 1+owers0 9ut a1ter the death o1 her husband she is doomed to +i(e a +i1e without any o1 these adornments0 Widows are e8*ected to remain in mourning during the remaining *art o1 her +i1e0 She 1orces to wear white sari0 I1 she does make u*5 *eo*+e +ook at her negati(e+y0 'cross the cu+tures5 widows are made to +ook unattracti(e and unkem*t0 6he e8*+anation gi(en to such an act is that the widow shou+d not induce carna+ *+easures in another man0 She is e8*ected to remain inside the home and *ray 1or her dead husband on+y0 She is 1orbidden to take *art in any 7oy1u+ occasion or to attend any 1ami+y 1esti(a+ because her (ery *resence wou+d be considered as an e(i+ omen0

Widows in Our Society Society +ooks at them sus*icious+y0 Society create doubt in their character i1 mi8

or chat with stranger men and men co2workers0 It is ob(ious that to +ead +i1e e(eryone need mi8 with *eo*+e weather its same or o**osite gender0 So5 its ridicu+es but true that widows are treated bad+y i1 she has any man 1riends or ha(ing good re+ation with any man co2workers0 I1 there is something more di11icu+t 1or a widow than being +e1t without a *artner in +i1e5 then it is being +e1t with a chi+d who needs constant care0 When asked what widows shou+d do to raise their chi+dren as hea+thy indi(idua+s5 Sa7ia Shohana one o1 the women3s right institute stressed that these women shou+d teach their chi+dren that they can be ha**y no matter what ha**ens in +i1e0 't +ast widows are disa**ro(ed to remarry0 :n+ike men5 women are discouraged to marry 1or a second time a1ter become a widow0 In 9ang+adesh in 1.?15 near+y 1"H o1 a++ 1ema+es aged 1 years and o(er were widowed5 as com*ared to on+y 10"H o1 men0 6his is in *art due to the age di11erences between husbands and wi(es5 and the greater incidence o1 remarriage 1or widowers0 9ecause o1 chi+d marriage5 and marriages to o+der man5 many widows are sti++ young women0 I1 widows are young5 it is imagined that they wi++ be Guick+y remarried0 9ut most o1 the time they are *re(ented by custom 1rom remarrying5 e(en i1 they wish to do so0 6his ru+e that widow shou+d not remarry is e(en more atrocious than that o1 ISatiI5 as sati at +east *uts an end to her tragedy immediate+y0 9ut i1 the widow is +i(ing5 her +i1e is socia++y5 cu+tura++y and emotiona++y dead0 She has to +i(e a++ her +i1e 1acing the s+ings and arrows o1 society as a widow0

Widows in Our Society Reasons o1 Widows Discriminations Most+y widows discrimination take *+ace due to re+igious and traditiona+ (iew *oints0 In a de(e+o*ing country +ike 9ang+adesh5 widowhood re*resents a /socia+ death/ 1or women0 It is not mere+y that they ha(e +ost their husbands5 the main breadwinner and su**orter o1 their chi+dren5 but widowhood robs them o1 their status and consigns them to the (ery margins o1 society where they su11er the most e8treme 1orms o1 discrimination and stigma0 Sometimes husbands are re+uctant to share their *ro*erty or wea+th in1ormation with their wi1e0 ' *rob+em arises with the widows o1 the businessmen who hide their assets 1rom their wi(es when +i(ing0 's a resu+t5 they are unab+e to *ro(e their tit+e to *ro*erty and ty*ica++y ha(e no documentation and +itt+e e8*ert know+edge about their rights0 6hus a1ter death o1 husband a widowed woman is genera++y unaware o1 her rights and she 1aces *rob+ems0 6he widows ha(e to 1ace many kinds o1 de*ri(ation: economic5 socia+5 cu+tura+ and emotiona+0 O1 a++ the de*ri(ation the economic deri(ation is the most harm1u+0 6he main reason behind this is the *oor economic condition o1 the woman who doesn3t get *ro*er education or doesn3t get in(o+(ed in any income generating acti(ity0 %s*ecia++y the mi++ions o1 i++iterate widows +i(ing in rura+ areas are most+y ignorant o1 the +ega+ rights they ha(e0 6he research that has been done shows that

househo+d headed by widows su11er dramatic dec+ine in *er ca*ita income and that the morta+ity risk o1 widowhood was higher 1or women than men0 'mong basic causes o1 their (u+nerabi+ity are restrictions on the residence5 inheritance5 remarriage and em*+oyment o**ortunities o1 widows0

Widows in Our Society :nmarried women are the *ro*erty and under the contro+ o1 their *arentsK married women be+ong to their husbands0 Widows are in +imbo and no +onger ha(e any *rotector0 6here are (ery +imited o**ortunities 1or widows +i(ing in househo+ds without an adu+t ma+e to engage in income2earning acti(ities0 )ritici;ed 1or being de*endent5 widows are se(ere+y restricted by cu+tura+ norms in the kind o1 se+12 em*+oyment they can undertake to reduce that de*endency0 's a resu+t they are de*endent in their in2+aws or re+ati(e0 Widows in any case5 es*ecia++y the mi++ions o1 i++iterate widows +i(ing in rura+

areas5 are most+y ignorant o1 the +ega+ rights they ha(e0 6hey are unab+e to *ro(e their tit+e to *ro*erty and ty*ica++y ha(e no documentation and +itt+e e8*ert know+edge about their rights0 6hey bear a++ the burden o1 caring 1or chi+dren5 or*hans5 and other sur(i(ing e+der+y and 1rai+ re+ati(es without any education or training to 1ind *aid work0 6he *atriarcha+ nature o1 our society (ests a++ economic and socia+ *owers in a man0 In the name o1 re+igion ma+es *er*etuate innumerab+e atrocities against their woman0 %(en a tottering o+d man tries to marry a1ter his wi1e dies0 9ut a young woman rendered a widow is barred 1rom marrying e(en i1 she is on+y in her teens0 She has to contro+ her emotions and 1ee+ings and +i(e +ike a rec+use a++ her +i1e and die as a widow0 6he +aws o1 the re+igion5 as inter*reted by the men in the society5 *rohibit a widow 1rom remarrying e(en i1 she has ne(er e8*erienced the *+easures o1 a married +i1e0 6here is an emerging trend towards *rohibiting and discouraging remarriage but most widows inter(iewed do not wish to remarry0 6hey 1ear i++ treatment in a new 1ami+y5 es*ecia++y abuse o1 their chi+dren0

Widows in Our Society 'ctua+ =ractice on =ro*erty Rights o1 Widows

Eoca+ inter*retations o1 the custom o1 the caste determine whether or not a widow wi++ be granted some *ermanent or tem*orary share o1 the 7oint 1ami+yIs +and or *ro*erty0 In rura+ area ownershi* tends to engender the bitterest 1ami+y dis*utes 2 ne(er more intense than when a husband dies0 ' 1u++ account o1 +and inheritance in 9ang+adesh wou+d ha(e to distinguish between traditiona+ +aw5 modern +aw5 and actua+ *ractice0 In an in1+uentia+ artic+e5Hossain and >a;i ," - argue that the inheritance rights

o1 the ma7ority o1 9enga+i rura+ widows are go(erned by actua+ *ractice0 =ractice can di11er 1rom (i++age to (i++age5 e(en in the same region and among the same caste0 =atri+oca+ residence and *atri+inea+ inheritance ,the wi1e goes to +i(e in her husbandIs (i++ageK on+y ma+es can inherit- is a 1undamenta+ source o1 the *o(erty and margina+i;ation o1 widows0 =atri+inea+ inheritance e11ecti(e+y denies widows inheritance rights o(er their 1atherIs *ro*erty5 and their customary and +ega+ rights o(er their husbandIs share o1 1ami+y *ro*erty are o1ten (io+ated0 ' wi1e becomes the *ro*erty o1 her in2+aws 1ami+y5 and when her husband dies they can decide what to gi(e her and how to treat her0 Ha(ing broken a++ intimate ties with her birth 1ami+y5 when her husband dies a widow has no 1reedom to /return/ to the *arenta+ home5 or to her brothers0 She remains in her husbandIs (i++age whether or not her owned +and or *ro*erty0 I1 there is +and5 under most caste codes the widow shou+d be a++otted some 1or her needs5 but she is not gi(en ownershi* rightsK she cannot mortgage5 se++ or gi1t it away0

Widows in Our Society She on+y has the /use/ and (ery +imited rights0 I1 she marries away /going for nata"5 has no chi+dren5 is 7udged to beha(e bad+y5 she may be sent away0 6he rea+ity is that +imited as they are5 the acce*ted *ro*erty rights o1 widows are o1ten (io+ated in *ractice0 In a study in 1..D5 # H o1 the widows in a study re*orted

serious con1+icts o(er inheritance5 +and5 *ro*erty5 and residence0 )on1+icts o1ten ended in (io+ence0 Sa+ma ,1...- obser(ed that con1+icts o(er +and and *ro*erty are o1ten so bad that brothers2in2+aw 1orce the widow to +ea(e the (i++age0 )on1+icts are usua++y o1 two ty*es: the brothers2in2+aw insist on sharecro**ing or managing the widowIs +and themse+(es5 or they sim*+y de*ri(e her o1 her share ,o1ten rationa+i;ing their c+aim by arguing that they s*ent money on her husbandIs 1unera+ or on her chi+drenIs maintenanceK they might e(en bring u* the dowry Guestion and say that money was owed-0 %(en i1 she owns +and5 she may ha(e no access to we++s5 *+oughs and bu++ocks ,*0D#1-0 In their attem*ts to gain contro+ o1 +and and *ro*erty5 the brothers2in2+aw may ,o1ten abetted by their wi(es- harass5 *ersecute5 beat and torture and e(en arrange the murder o1 the widow0 Eong a1ter the abo+ition o1 Sati5 there continue to be re*orted cases o1 women being 1orced to ki++ themse+(es on the death o1 their husband5 in order 1or re+ati(es to sei;e her inheritance0 's 1ar as the ground situation today goes5 a Mus+im widowIs status in the society de1rauds her o1 many e+ements o1 em*owerment0 ' Mus+im womanIs right to inheritance is obser(ed more in breach than in com*+iance0 In most o1 the cases5 daughters are not gi(en their due share in 1atherIs *ro*erty0 What genera++y is

Widows in Our Society

*racticed is that the brothers gi(e her a token amount as Igenerous gi1tI and insist that she wi++ not c+aim 1or her +aw1u+ share in 1atherIs *ro*erty0 6he *arado8 +ies here0 6he sister hard+y goes in 1or +itigation against the brother,s- 1or 1ear o1 +osing a cordia+ 1ami+ia+ re+ationshi*0 Maintaining such re+ationshi*s is a+ways the res*onsibi+ity o1 the IweakerI *arty ,read se8-0 She5 howe(er5 c+aims her share in crisis moments or in cases when the husband demands dowry5 and a**roaches her brothers0 It is on+y the sweet wi++ o1 the brothers that they a++ocate a +itt+e share to the he+*+ess sister as o1 ImercyIL Studies re(ea+ that D?0"DH o1 the widows were know+edgeab+e about Sharia Eaws that *ro(ides them the right to inherit *arentIs and husbandIs *ro*erty0 9ut in rea+ity women do not c+aim share 1rom such *ro*erty0 6o dea+ with such de*+orab+e situation the widow has to demand her rights and e8ercise them0 6o understand her rights she has to be +iterate5 courageous and mobi+e0 She needs to be ab+e to assist her c+aims a+ong with the ma+es0 Mor a rura+ widow this is im*ossib+e0 Her status as a widow *rohibits her 1rom +ea(ing the house0 She is com*+ete+y uneGui**ed to dea+ with the bureaucracy5 con1ront ma+es5 strangers and in seeking outside assistance she +ays herse+1 o*en to more abuse and abuse0

Widows in Our Society )onseGuences o1 a Su11ering Widow


What do widows do in countries where there is no socia+ security and no *ensions5 and where the traditiona+ 1ami+y networks ha(e broken downN I1 they do not surrender to the demands o1 ma+e re+ati(es ,e0g05 /+e(irate5/ widow inheritance5 remarriage5 househo+d s+a(ery5 and o1ten degrading and harm1u+ traditiona+ buria+ rites- and they are i++iterate and untrained and without +and5 their o*tions are 1ew0 O1ten there is no a+ternati(e to begging e8ce*t entering the most e8*+oitati(e and unregu+ated areas o1 in1orma+ sector +abor5 such as domestic ser(ice and se8 work0 Withdrawing chi+dren 1rom schoo+5 sending them to work as domestic ser(ants or sacri1icing them to other areas o1 e8*+oitati(e chi+d +abor5 se++ing 1ema+e chi+dren to ear+y marriages or abandoning them to the streets5 are common sur(i(a+ strategies and wi++ continue to be used unti+ widows can access education and income2generating training 1or themse+(es and their de*endents0 6o add to their *rob+ems5 widows who ha(e sur(i(ed terrib+e hardshi*s are o1ten abandoned or ostraci;ed by their re+ati(es who re1use to su**ort them0 6he shame o1 ra*e5 the com*etition 1or scarce resources such as the 1ami+y +and or the shared house5 *+aces con1+ict widows in intense need0 6hey are unab+e to *ro(e their tit+e to *ro*erty and ty*ica++y ha(e no documentation and +itt+e e8*ert know+edge about their rights0 6hey bear a++ the burden o1 caring 1or chi+dren5 or*hans5 and other sur(i(ing e+der+y and 1rai+ re+ati(es without any education or training to 1ind *aid work0 Widows in third wor+d nations ha(e the *otentia+ to *+ay a crucia+ ro+e in the 1uture o1 their societies and the de(e+o*ment o1 *eace5 democracy5 and 7ustice5 yet their basic needs and their (a+uab+e contributions are most+y ignored0 Where *rogress has been made5 it is due to widows working together in an association0

Widows in Our Society Recommendation WidowsI associations must be encouraged and em*owered to undertake studies *ro1i+ing their situation and needs0 6hey must be in(o+(ed in the design o1 *ro7ects


and *rograms and instrumenta+ in monitoring the im*+ementation and e11ecti(eness o1 new re1orm +egis+ation to gi(e them *ro*erty5 +and5 and inheritance rightsK *rotect them 1rom (io+enceK and gi(e them o**ortunities 1or training and em*+oyment0 Widows at +ast ha(e an internationa+ ad(ocacy organi;ation0 In 1..J5 1o++owing a worksho* at the 9ei7ing Mourth Wor+d WomenIs )on1erence5 %m*owering Widows in De(e+o*ment ,%WD- was estab+ished0 6his nongo(ernmenta+ internationa+ organi;ation has %)OSO) consu+tati(e status with the :nited Nations and is a charity registered in the :nited >ingdom and the :nited States0 It is an umbre++a grou* 1or more than 1i1ty grass2roots organi;ations o1 widows in South 'sia5 '1rica5 %astern %uro*e5 and %ast 'sia and its membershi* is constant+y growing0 %WD is 1ocusing on the *+ight o1 mi++ions o1 widows in 9ang+adeshO9ang+adeshi widows in re1ugee cam*s0 'n o11shoot o1 %WD5 Widows 1or =eace and Reconstruction5 was set u* in 'ugust5 " 1 to re*resent the s*ecia+ needs o1 war widows and to ensure that their

(oices are heard in *ost2con1+ict *eace bui+ding0 Much more work is needed to bui+d u* the ca*acity o1 widowsI grou*s and to educate our nation5 ci(i+ society5 go(ernments5 and institutions5 inc+uding the 7udiciary and the +ega+ *ro1ession5 on the im*ortance o1 *rotecting the human rights o1 widows in our country5 whether they are at *eace or in con1+ict0 Howe(er5 *rogress wi++ not be made unti+ widows themse+(es are the agents o1 change0

Widows in Our Society )onc+usion


6he widows o1 9ang+adesh +i(e a high+y (u+nerab+e +i1e not on+y because o1 their gender but a+so because o1 the socio2cu+tura+ customs and 1+aws in the +ega+ system s*ecia++y re+ated to the inheritance o1 *ro*erty0 6hese women are de*ri(ed o1 their rights to income5 inherited *ro*erty5 *ro*er +i(ing s*ace and remain a+most in socia+ iso+ation in the ma+e dominated society and tra**ed in a de*endency re+ationshi* throughout their +i(es0 6he research seeks to understand and ana+y;e the socio2economic and human rights situations o1 these (u+nerab+e grou*s to be ab+e to identi1y awareness raising and other inter(ention needs in terms o1 ensuring inheritance rights5 1aci+itating dis*ute reso+ution5 recei(ing *ub+ic ser(ices and aids5 and enhancing the dignity and status o1 widows in society0 6he action *art o1 the research a+so inc+udes an e+ement o1 *ro(iding training to these (u+nerab+e grou*s to raise their +e(e+ o1 awareness5 bui+d con1idence5 1or changing the attitude and mindset towards increased se+12res*ect and se+12esteem0

Widows in Our Society Re1erences: '+i5 S0>0 ,n0d0-0 Widows in Bangladesh. Retri(ed '*ri+ 1!5" htt*:FFwww0women0com0bdF .5 1rom


Hossain5 S0 '05 P >a;i0'0 ,1.?$-0 Situation of Women in Bangladesh. Dhaka: 'uthor Mu++a5 D0M0 ,1.!"-0 Principles of Mohammedan Law0 ,1!th ed0-09ombay: 6ri*athi ,=ri(ate EimitedOhan5 Margaret0 /Human Rights o1 Widows in De(e+o*ing )ountries0/ In >e++y D0 ,%d0-5 Women and International Human Rights Law. New Bork: 6ransnationa+ =ub+ishers5 " 10

Re*ub+ic o1 9ang+adesh5 1.!"0 Dhaka Eaw Re*orts0 Sa+ma5 S0 ,1.!?-0Eega+ status o1 women in 9ang+adesh5Bangladesh Institute of Law and International Affairs0Dhaka:Ma++ick 9rothers Widows at rura+ areas0 ," ?5 October D-0 ail! Star5 *01"