International Widows Day as Observed by BSEHR

Saturday, July 9, 2011, 7:10 AM

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International Widows Day as Observed by BSEHR

Advocate Marufa Ferdouse

Bangladesh Supreme Court

How much we are plateful towards Widows

It was incessantly raining outside and Komola was crying inside in a short documentary film ‘Komola’ (a tale of a struggling poor widow in Bangladesh) that was being screening in observance of the Ist International Widows Day on 29th June 2011 at 4.00pm at BSEHR. Adv. Sigma Huda [Secretary-General of Bangladesh Society for the Establishment of Human Rights (BSEHR)] producer of that film truly told that ‘it is raining for long time as if the whole Earth and Nature is crying with the widows’ at the time starting of ‘Komola’. I believe everybody present there was touched with spongy feelings and turned out more wide awake.

Declaration of International Widows day:

The first International Widows’ Day has been observed on 23 June 2011, providing an opportunity to give special recognition to the plight of widows and their children in order to restore their human rights and alleviate poverty through empowerment.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon gave his message for International Widows’ Day on23 June 2011 "We must recognize the important contribution of widows, and we must ensure that they enjoy the rights and social protections they deserve. Death is inevitable, but we can reduce the suffering that widows endure by raising their status and helping them in their hour of need. This will contribute to promoting the full and equal participation of all women in society. And that will bring us closer to ending poverty and promoting peace around the world."

In December 2010, the General Assembly declared 23 June as International Widows’ Day (A/RES/65/189). The General Assembly decided, with effect from 2011, to observe International Widows’ Day on 23 June each year, and called upon Member States, the United Nations system and other international and regional organizations, within their respective mandates, to give special attention to the situation of widows and their children. (Ref.UNOpage)

Back Ground:

The significance of 23 June is that this is the day, in 1954, that the woman who inspired the founding of the Lomb Foundation, Shipmate Pushpin Wait Lomb, became a widow.

When the Lomb Foundation was founded in 1997, its focus initially was on relieving the desperate plight of poor widows and their children in India – and this remains a very important objective. Founder Raj Lomb soon came to realize however that this problem is by no means confined to India alone. “I was shocked to discover that widowhood was a huge problem not only in India, but across Africa,” he explained to “They were losing husbands through HIV, through genocide, through conflict, and they were becoming destitute. They were not looked after by governments or NGOs and they were shunned by society. It’s such a big problem, and yet nothing has been done. Nobody in the world, including the United Nations, had ever addressed the problem of widows.”

In Africa, too, the problem is more deep-rooted than current devastations like genocide and HIV. Attitudes are founded in traditions and so-called ‘customary laws’.

In 2005, Lomb Foundation president Cherie Blair launched International Widows Day at the House of Lords in London and over the next five years, the Foundation campaigned for international recognition of this day as a focus for sustained, effective, global action to bring about a radical and lasting transformation in the plight of widows. In 2006 the Lomb Foundation held an international conference on the topic at the Foreign Office in London, addressed by widows from ten countries as well as Cherie Blair, Hillary Clinton, Indian cabinet minister Rebuke Chowdhury, Yoko Ono and Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon. The Foundation established offices in America and Canada and organised meetings at the United Nations, gaining the attention and support of leaders like Rwandan president Dr Paul Kagame and the former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan.

The big problem with the cause was its invisibility. Governments, NGOs, international organisations – all neglected the issue because so very little was known about it. The Loomba Foundation initiated and supported an investigative programme with writers, researchers and institutions including Chatham House and in 2010; Vijay Dutt’s Invisible Forgotten Sufferers was published with research by Risto Harma: the first comprehensive research study of the plight of widows around the world.

Backed with that hard information, support for UN recognition grew. President Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon and his wife Sylvia Najma Valentin threw their weight behind the campaign and on 22 December 2011, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution from Gabon officially recognising 23 June as International Widows Day. (Reference/ the Loomba Foundation Page)

Widows in Bangladesh:

The widows in Bangladesh are far more impoverished than any other country in the World.

There is a saying ’a woman becomes widow with her right hand cut off’. The life and way of living of widows in our country is very disgraceful, discreditable, scandalous, reprehensible unbearable struggle stricken. They become subject to blame, difference, discrimination and deprivation of their right to normal movement possessed/owned thing or property or even own protection just at the moment their husbands breathe their last. In many social activities or occasions their presence is being mortified and ruthlessly disregarded like any abandoned or inaccessible thing. The moment a woman loses her husband, she feels everything finished around her, finds array of darkness that seems to cover all her ways to living especially when she has minor children. But at that very moment people starting to close one i.e. in-laws, neighbors and known or unknown far relatives never sit idle; they vigorously start to impose a range of forbidding and irrational customs i.e. immediately titling her as widow (blending a sense of blemished woman), breaking or taking away all bangles & other jewellery from her body, pulling out nose pin and many more dire directives on what she ought or ought not follow. People continue to gather her for days and she has to spend money to meet up immediate needs. But this could be avoided if people around her become a bit reasonable and pitiful to her in true sense. A widow begins to face the real predicament as soon as she starts to find her ways for earning daily bread for her and her poor children.

If widows are classified according to their social status i.e. poor class, lower middle class, middle class and upper class not one of them from any of these classes can escape from negatively changed & troublesome situation. The form or outward appearance may differ but all widows from all walks have to go ahead with a besieged life coping with enormous torment and misery. If I go through according to social status or financial position, the scenario appears as followed—

Poor Class- Directly and illogically blamed for the death of their husbands are forced to leave the late husband’s house; become intensively poverty stricken with neither food nor shelter for themselves & their children; not accepted at father’s or brother’s house, situations force them to lose children in varied ways; often sexually tortured or victimised by even close male relatives; often trafficked by human traffickers, exploited by relatives and also are often forced to lead a disgraceful life of prostitution whose life finally end up by encountering Aids.

Lower middle class-The scenario is almost same here like that of Poor Class. A widow may not be in want of food or deprived of shelter at the instance she becomes a widow but eventually this happens in the course of time. Severely blamed, leashed up with so many superstitious social customs and rituals, a sudden darkness surrounds her along with her children which may stop her from continuing usual normal life.

Middle class- Middle class widows fall into rather dangerous insufferable situations. They have to fight with each and every one just to maintain their normal movement avoiding all blames and superstitions to protect their rights to freedom and property in order to rear and educate their children. Widows here, are educated and able to realize the barriers which may be very much active to deprive, abuse or exploit them along with their children. Besides the sufferings of her being lonely in absence of that special person she used to share with her very words, a widow here has to lead a very cautious and technically handled-life in order to protect herself from any social discoloration. Being reasonable and responsible she needs to strongly face any bad offer or to reject proposal for remarry for the sake of her children. She often needs to struggle to continue her own normal family life with children, to apply the rights to protect what she has, properties or any other belongings. She has to fight for the rights what she deserves to obtain. Since she is capable of identifying her dilemma and rights, people in opposition or in-laws never leave any stone unthrown to pull her in to back foot.

Upper class- Upper class widows suffer from an imbalanced and undisciplined family life that may cause psychological/traumatic disorder. Widows here also fall in a situation where they lose many of their rights or are deprived of applying their rights in connection to their social status.

To express her opinion in the discussion on “Providing opportunity to give special recognition to widows and their children in order to restore their human rights and alleviate poverty through empowerment” Adv. Sigma Huda raised a variety of pictures of sufferings of the widows that she often deals with for her clients to establish their rights in different suits in the Court. She said that although articles 10, 11,12,13,15,27,28,42 43 in our Constitution tell about the rights of women’s Human Rights but we need to have specific Laws for the widows to ensure their rights. She expressed her hope that ‘Nari Unnoyon Nitimala’ will play better role in creating more scopes for the widows so that they get the full freedom to apply their rights regarding their properties and protection.

Former Justice Badrul Haque told about “Widows Right to Property and Protection” that this is of very significant subject to think about.

Many of us may think that since there is the International Women Day and while the present day people are much more concerned to establish women’s rights, women’s empowerment, stop violence against women’ to protect and establish women’s Human Rights then why is this separate identification of the widows? It is true that UNO has taken much time to realize the necessities of declaration for International Widows Day, I must say it is better late than never in this context.

Widow’s problems are to be dealt with separately because of different types of sufferings they endure. Generally it is seen that women are subject to torture, violence, discrimination etc but what the widow’s face is of totally different dimensions along with all those common oppression which usually happen to all women in many societies. A widow is regarded very rudely as ‘opoya’ or unlucky in many countries and societies around the world. This situation is not exception in Bangladesh.

People maintain avoiding widows strictly when they are about to start a good work or an occasion such as weddings, ‘gaye-holud’, ‘goud–bharai’ shifting to new house etc.

The poor and the lower middle class widows suffer hugely from this social stigma and are supressed but the middle class, in most cases educated widows gradually get used to deal with this unsympathetic situation for their own survival.

Again the situation of struggle and misery varies in urban and rural areas.

Another thing is that they have to fight for the freedom to apply their rights just to deal with their own properties, to make their own decision for any selling or purchasing their properties. Sometimes, they are compelled to rush in to for selling their properties at very cheap price just to escape losing them in the hands of their greedy relatives.

Widows are also being harassed when they try to establish the rights of their children on their properties. In many cases deprivation of the rights of the children of widows on properties jeoperdise the lives of all these people.

Framework to work with for the widows to ensure their Properties and Protection:

Following this discussion everybody agreed that the existing law in Bangladesh for women is not enough to protect widows’ rights or providing justice to them. I feel that a structural framework is needed to identify the grounds or factors those make widows’ lives abusively struggle some. Many speakers expressed their valuable suggestion in this regard which are as follows:

Justice Badrul Haque emphasized on the need to ensure overall protection to widows’ rights and properties. He mentioned that Mr. Ayub Khan the then Prime Minister of Pakistan did a very good job by passing the Act ensuring the rights of children on properties when father dies but grandfather is alive, in the year 1961. Before that, children of the widows used to be deprived from any right on family property or their fathers’ own property when their grandfather is alive. But although this Act passed in 1961 established the right of widows’ children but there was no right on property for that widow. Still now we have this particular drawback in our law about those widows whose father in-laws are alive. So widows’ rights to property in presence of their fathers-in-law must be acknowledged and ensured. It becomes absolutely meaningless when a widow’s minor children get rights on properties when their grandfather is alive but she has no right in the properties. In these circumstances a widow is treated badly when she goes for doing any act i.e. collecting rent from tenants or drawing cash from banks in order to live her and children’s lives. Conspiracies are often being held to evict her (a widow in presence of her father-in-law) from the in-law’s house and following her eviction new conspiracy goes on by other possible heirs against these orphaned minor children. In this perspective a widow must be given rights to her husband’s property along with her children’s right.

To create Association for Widows that will work through country wide network.

To create special association for middle class widows since their deep-rooted miseries are apparently alike.

We need to create a technique or mechanism through which a mass awareness will be operated identifying widows with their stigmas and sufferings and generating helpful measures in order to remove problems and find solutions done.

Emphasizing on to extend helping hands and attitude towards the children of the widows and privileging them by providing scope for their betterment.

Creating a committee for pre counseling and providing guideline that will be real helpful for the women who lose their husband all on a sudden.

Screening of ‘Komola’ was an attempt to show the mechanism to think about the widows, to convey the message of making awareness how the widows are turned away from the normal life they used to live till the death of their husband. The three factors recognized by UNO and Loomba Foundation are as

Losing husband all on a sudden let the widows facing blame and it begins stigmatic situation.

As social position gets downward with their being widows, they along with their ill-fated children are often deprived of Human Rights, life becomes wretched.

The whole living expenses has to bear that widow (in most of the cases) and as consequence this family starts plunging in dearth.

In views of the above mentioned factor a lot of initiatives, policies and measures need to be planned and could be implemented by Individual (well being), NGOs or Organization and our Government. Unless our State will make policies, pass and enact new laws especially for the widows for establishing their Human Rights and alleviating poverty nothing will be done in true sense. There must be specific Law to recognize widow’s right on property whether or not father-in-law is alive. Adv. Sigma Huda said that BSEHR will pay much commitment to work for the widows in different ways. Initially draft laws will be prepared in connection to work for the widows.