Widows continue to face severe stigma and discrimination


Widows and single women from India, Nepal and Sri Lanka met together with government representatives and international organizations in New Delhi to address current gaps in policies and programmes that prevent them from claiming their rights.

‘There are an estimated 245 million widows worldwide, 115 million of whom live in poverty and suffer from social stigmatization and economic deprivation largely because they have lost their husbands. However, UN Women strongly believes that we can harness the potential of widows as change agents!’ said Patricia Barandun, Deputy Representative of UN Women.

According to the UN Women study on ‘Empowering Widows: an Overview of Policies and Programmes in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka’, widows in Asia are still relegated to a status of the ‘unwanted insiders’. They often face a ‘triple burden’, in the form of stigma associated with widowhood, severe constraints on access to resources, and sexual vulnerability, which makes them one of the most marginalised and vulnerable communities in this region. This is a stark contrast to their male counterparts, who are not subject to similar socio-economic exclusion within households and society at large.

Mr. Dhana Bahadur Tamang, Secretary Ministry of Women, Children & Social Welfare, Nepal highlighted that ‘Widows are the most vulnerable group of women and they are discriminated in many ways in the South Asian society’

‘Women lack access to resources, they face discrimination when it comes to inheritance rights, the situation is even worse for single women and widows’ said Ms. Lalitha Kumaramangalam, Chairperson, National Commission for Women, India.

Ms. Chaggi Bai, a widow from Rajasthan said ‘I faced violence and discrimination as a widow but I continued to fight for my rights and the rights of widows in my Community.’

UN Women’s study also highlights that widows are not a homogeneous group. Their situation changes considerably, depending on age, social and cultural practices, their geographical location, educational levels and also on who their husbands were. The different schemes in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka do not reflect this diversity.

In India for instance, only widows between 40 and 60 years of age can have access to pension under the Indira Gandhi National Widow Pension Scheme (IGNWPS) introduced in 2009. In Sri Lanka, widows whose husbands were not part of the government system are excluded from the pension programme and although Nepal has an inclusive pension policy, challenges in implementation deprive many widows of their entitlements.


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