Widows face an uphill battle after losing spouses – Part 1

WILL POINT, TX – Gospel for Asia (GFA World and affiliates like Gospel for Asia Canada) founded by KP Yohannan, has released this special report update on the plight of widows in wealthy and developing countries.

After two decades of fighting to eliminate the “widows tax” from the US military, Cathy Milford has finally succeeded, but she will not benefit from this change for three years. That’s how long it will take for her to receive full survivor benefits instead of only partial ones. Although the US Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act of 2020, the bill will only phase out the tax by 2023.

Cathy Milford
Cathy Milford successfully fought to eliminate the “widow tax” from the US military. Photo by Doug Jones, Medium

“It’s just an awful thing to do,” Milford said at a May 2019 Capitol Hill rally, recalling his 25 years of pushing for repeal; her late husband, Harry, suffered a fatal aneurysm shortly after retiring from the US Coast Guard. “Every time I talk about it, I have to dig my husband up and bury him again.”

The dispute revolved around compensation for survivors of veterans who died of service-related causes (the Dependency and Indemnification, or DIC, program) and a separate life insurance-type program known as Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP). While people who qualified for either received full payments, those with income from both saw SBP funds reduced by one dollar for every DIC dollar since 1972. The difference of up to at $1,000 a month affects 67,000 surviving spouses.

“This problem goes back decades, but this year we finally solved it once and for all,” Maine Senator Susan Collins said after the bill passed in December 2019.

That obtaining additional benefits for military survivors took such a long fight symbolizes the plight of widows around the world. Whether it is husbandless women in Nigeria who have been branded “witches”, women in Asia blamed for the death of their husbands and other calamities, or those in South Africa who may lose their rights of inheritance when in-laws object, the world’s 258 million widows face an uphill battle.

widow in cemetery
Women who lose a spouse can face difficult and complicated issues even in wealthy societies, as the battle of American military widows illustrates.

Nearly one in 10 people live in extreme poverty, according to the United Nations (UN). While widows have specific needs, their voices are often absent from policies that affect them.

“In some Asian cultures, when a woman’s husband dies, she is often stripped of her dignity, worth and human rights,” says KP Yohannan, founder of Gospel for Asia (GFA). “Many of these widows are deprived of their homes, belongings and possessions, leaving them destitute. Lacking the ability to earn a living and having no access to savings or credit, millions of widows across Asia struggle for survival every day, all the while being shunned and shamed.

As the battle of military widows illustrates, women can face problems even in wealthy societies. Another example of the contempt for American widows surfaced in a 2018 report. The Office of the Social Security Inspector General (OIG) reviewed cases of dual eligibility, where a widow may receive her benefit or that of a deceased spouse. The OIG found that 82% of the time, the Social Security administration did not follow its own procedures for defining maximum benefit options.

According to statistics from the US Census Bureau and the latest Loomba Foundation World Widows Report:

The United States ranks third in the world for the highest number of female widows at over 14 million.

Forty-nine percent earn less than $25,000 a year, meaning “widowhood is often a ticket to poverty.”

In practical numbers:

More than 740,000 widows are unable to feed themselves, house themselves and obtain basic necessities.

Secondary losses often crush widows, who may then lose their homes, jobs, insurance, or credit.

Giving 100 stress points for the loss of a spouse, the Holmes and Rahe Social Readjustment Scale ranks the loss of a spouse highest. Further losses can push a widow’s stress level nearly 300 points, which means an 80% risk of serious illness.

Sisters of Compassion pray for a desperate widow
Three Sisters of Compassion from GFA World were photographed for this discouraged widow who had recently lost her husband to a tiger attack – a common occurrence in the Sundarbans of West Bengal, India.

Global problem

Widows’ problems exist all over the world. According to the World Bank, it is particularly bad in much of Africa, where marriage is the only basis for women’s access to social and economic rights, which often disappear after widowhood or divorce. According to the World Bank, policy reforms that can help address the disadvantages of widows relate to land ownership, inheritance rights, registration of customary marriages and widows’ pensions.

Asli Demirguc-Kunt
Widows: Invisible and Excluded – Asli Demirguc-Kunt Photo by World Bank.org

“Faced with divorce or widowhood, women often face severe economic hardship,” said Asli Demirguc-Kunt, research director at the World Bank.

For example, women often inherit nothing at the end of a marriage. They may be excluded from labor markets, own fewer productive assets and take on more responsibility for caring for children or the elderly.

“Just as widows are often hidden away in their own communities, the lack of data limits public awareness of the issue,” the “Invisible and Excluded” story said. “Quantifying the prevalence of widowhood and divorce requires information on both current widows and divorcees as well as the marital history of currently married women, and this is only available in 20 countries.”

Nearly one in 10 people live in extreme poverty, according to the United Nations. While widows have specific needs, their voices are often absent from policies that affect them.

Such disregard can hurt deeply, something a 49-year-old Nigerian discovered after her husband’s suicide in 2014. Four months after his death, Christiana fell to her bones after searching the forests for three days. Afterwards, her relatives summoned her and interrogated her intensely, looking for evidence that her husband had not died from his witchcraft.

“They said I killed my husband,” she told freelance journalist Orji on Sunday, “and declared me a witch.” Sunday then recounted how many Nigerian widows face similar challenges rooted in cultural practices. Many traditions require women to take an oath to prove their innocence upon the death of their husband.

“Others confine the widow in place for [a] specific period of mourning and others shave their hair, still others insist that the widow drink the water with which her late husband was washed. Some are given to the brother of the deceased,” Sunday wrote. “Legislation protecting widows is lacking in many states across the country, and in areas where laws exist, implementation is far from convincing.”

Widows with child
Earthquakes in Nepal left this woman a widow with young children. Like many others in her country, she doesn’t know how to start her life over.

Similar stories appear far beyond Africa. In Nepal, a middle-aged woman was blamed for the death of her husband in 2014. Five years later, residents of her village accused her of causing the death of a buffalo and beat her and tortured.

“This is a representative example of how a widow is abused and traumatized in the country, how widows are looked down upon and treated as inauspicious,” Prakriti Sapkota wrote in a 2019 report. most vulnerable categories of people in the country. The social stigma attached to them deprives them of their fundamental rights and their freedom of expression. They are [the] plagued by physical and sexual assault and harassment, accused of various sexual misdeeds and socially marginalized”.


Donate to help widows

If this special report has touched you and you would like to do something about the plight of widows around the world today, please share this article with your friends and consider making a generous donation to GFA World to help widows in South Asia. South and elsewhere. .


About Gospel for Asia

Gospel for Asia (GFA World, www.gfa.org) is a leading faith-based mission agency, helping national workers bring life-saving assistance and spiritual hope to millions of people across Asia, especially in those who have not yet heard of God’s love. In the latest GFA annual report, this included over 70,000 children sponsored, free medical camps held in over 1,200 villages and remote communities, over 4,800 clean water wells drilled, over 12,000 water filters installed, income-generating Christmas gifts for more than 260,000 needy people. families and spiritual teaching available in 110 languages ​​in 14 countries through the radio ministry. For all the latest news, visit our newsroom at https://press.gfa.org/news.