Sunday, July 1, 2018

Social Impact of Widowhood

Patriarchal societies recognize widowhood in cultural contexts but do not recognize them in the discourse of poverty, as explained by Khanna. This statement is far more relevant to non-Western countries, such as Africa and Asia, than to Western countries, though the epidemic of widowhood is a global one. In India, there are more than 42.2 million known present widows—more than the total population of many small European countries. In Vietnam, that number is 4.7 million, in Brazil it is 5.6 million, and in Indonesia it is 1.2 million known present widows. It is due to those the patriarchal views and the single cultural attribution to widowhood that political change in this important discussion is minimal across nations. No government wants to touch the “Pandora’s box” of cultural issues.  

This is a major concern because stigmatization and cultural norms are critical factors that contribute to economic vulnerability. In regions such as Ghana, the husband’s death signifies the social death of the widow as well. As Dr. Joyce Akumaa Dongotey-Padi, Ghanaian women’s rights leader, explained, the widow no longer possesses any rights because her identity was so tethered to that of her husband’s. Often she is blamed for his death and must repent for her mistakes. She is no longer seen as a functioning member of society. 

Furthermore, as discussed by Owen, social stigmatization is perpetuated at young ages. As we have seen a large increase in the population of widows, there has been a parallel sharp increase in young widows due to child marriage practices that are still part of cultural norms in many regions of the world. When young widowhood occurs, the future of the country is put into jeopardy for the simple reason that young individuals are supposed to be the future of any country and a significant percentage of these young individuals are widowed, economically disempowered, and socially excluded. Furthermore, without education, training, and the means to support themselves, many widows are forced to take their children out of school. Most often, the girl is taken out of school first due to the social belief that the boy will take care of his parents when he grows older. However, in some cases the boy is even taken by the extended family because he is treated as an asset—an heir to the inheritance left by his father. As widows continue to struggle financially and are unable to support their children, they are coerced to selling them in some countries, such as in Afghanistan. Due to the lack of support given to widows in society and the ignorance bestowed upon them, children often end up in prostitution or commit crime. The lack of support and means to live, results in the spread of diseases, which further exacerbates the problem.   

However, the social calamity that widowhood presents can finally be realized through the new, comprehensive sustainable development goals that urge governments to reassess the focus of the issue and bring about political change. As speaker Hetle stated, “We can all use [SDG 5] towards the particular goals and groups through our activism.” Amongst the symptoms of the social ostracizing of widows include violence against these women (addressed by SDG 5.2), disrespect or disregard for their unpaid work (addressed by SDG 5.4), and an overarching disempowerment of women from early on in many communities across the globe. These symptoms become ignited upon the death of the significant other and lead to social death or stigmatization and eventual poverty. However, as Khanna pointed out, it is critical to realize the points that underscore stigmatization. While religious and social sanctions undoubtedly propel the stigmas within society, economic vulnerability exacerbates the problem by strengthening the basis for the stigmatization. Widowhood is more than just a cultural issue—it is an entitlement and human rights issue.


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