COVID-19 pandemic negatively impacted the lives of women across every sphere, from health to the economy and security to social protection. In a male-centric society like India, when the spouse of a woman expires, more often than not, she is considered to be a burden. Usually compelled to pursue her life as a hermit. Hapless and forlorn.
Widows are largely unseen, unsupported, and unmeasured in our societies. Experience from past pandemics, for example, HIV/AIDS and Ebola, shows that widows are often denied inheritance rights, have their property grabbed after the death of a partner, and can face extreme sigma and discrimination, as perceived ‘carriers’ of disease. Women are much less likely to have access to old-age pensions than men, so the death of a spouse can lead to destitution for older women. In the context of lockdowns and economic closures, widows may not have access to bank accounts and pensions to pay for healthcare if they too become ill or to support themselves and their children.
Although they have a clear right to the property of their deceased husband, which exists even after they remarry, Right to Inheritance, same as her husband; Right to Adoption as well as Right of Maintenance. All around us, there are grotesque violations of the rights of the widows. There are instances where widows are denied access, ownership, and control even the inheritance of the property and the land they live on. Where these women and their children are evicted from their homes because their husbands have died. Where a lack of savings means a lack of health care for themselves and education for their children and grandchildren.
Since times immemorial there are numerous cases where widows are forced into exploitative and risky sex work in order to support themselves and their families.
They are bearing a burden that is unfair and unjust. They are made to endure certain practices in the name of tradition, at times, are inhumane and degrading, is a serious violation of their human rights. Their plight is rarely a matter of public concern. This may be because their exploiters, most are the same people they society has placed the responsibility of their wellbeing on. They are a scattered group of pained individuals whose trials and tribulations are beautifully masked by their predators under the garb of tradition.
In order to meet the needs of this less-talked-about section of the society, governments must uphold their obligation of protecting the human rights of widows. National policies and programs must integrate widowhood into current development plans and strategies, including the standards set by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Convention of the Rights of the Child. National laws must be established, especially those that protect the property and inheritance rights of women, and ensure implementation of those laws. Efforts should be made to strengthen the judicial system and empower widows to be recognized as full members of society. Civil society can help keep governments accountable and be strong advocates for the rights of widows and service providers to women and girls who have nowhere else to turn.
It is crucial to start gauges that would prompt the prosperity of the widows inside the nation. There is a necessity to produce more possibilities and open doors for the widows to come out of their houses, set up something for themselves, create golden chances that would lead to their strengthening, and rebuild their personality with confidence and self-respect. There is a need to produce more chances for the general public and policymakers to listen to the worries and problems of the widows.
(Ishanee Sharma is Managing Partner, Ishanee Sharma Law Offices)