UN Women Announces Programme for Widows in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka


New Delhi - An estimated 15,000 widows live on the streets of Vrindavan in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Their stories are little heard and their tales of survival are little known. On the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day on 8 March, UN Women announced the launch of a new regional programme to address the needs of widows in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

“India has an estimated 40 million widows in India, and their lives are often mired in poverty, neglect, and deprivation. The time has come for us to act and create space for widows in mainstream policy and social welfare schemes. Their situation has to be recognized and addressed,” said Anne F. Stenhammer, Regional Programme Director, UN Women South Asia.

The three-year programme, funded jointly by UN Women Swiss National Committee and the Standard Chartered Bank, will be implemented in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka to reduce the social ostracism faced by widows. This will be done by collecting data and evidence to highlight the stigma faced by them, by working with widows’ coalitions so they can speak up and access public services, and finally by guaranteeing that discrimination social practices against widows are reviewed and repealed.

Plans are also afoot to work with local community leaders so they can help to champion the cause of widows. While in India, UN Women will work with widows affected by HIV, the focus will be on young widows in Nepal and widows living in conflict areas in Sri Lanka. The programme will be implemented in partnership with the Guild of Service and Astha Sansthan in India, the Women for Human Rights (WHR) in Nepal and Women’s Education and Research Centre in Sri Lanka.

A survey done to gauge the situation of widows in Vrindavan by the Guild of Service and UN Women revealed that the widows are extremely poor monetarily, living well below the poverty line defined by the World Bank and even the Planning Commission. Although 70 percent of the women had heard of the destitute widow’s pension scheme, only a quarter of all widows received pension.

“UN Women is committed to walk together with widows in their journey to claim their rights and dignity,” says Anne F Stenhammer, Regional Programme Director, UN Women South Asia Regional Office.

UN Women, formally known as the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, is the United Nations’ most ambitious effort ever to accelerate actions to achieve gender equality.