“Your husband is dead.” To millions of women these words are a curse, a lifelong sentence of disgrace and struggle. In many countries, society regards widows as signs of bad luck. “Even our own family considers us burdens,” shared a widow in India. Labeled and abandoned, these women face a lonely life of suffering.
India alone is home to more than 40 million widows. Because of arranged marriages, teenaged girls are sometimes married to men twice their age or older. This leaves large numbers of women widowed at a young age.
In past centuries, a husband’s death in India meant that his wife would be burned alive along with his body. It was believed that she could then join and assist her husband in the afterlife. Some women, realizing the difficult life they would face as a widow, voluntarily jumped into the fire.
India’s government has outlawed this practice, but the stigma surrounding widowhood remains embedded in the culture. Relatives often cast out a widow when her husband dies to avoid disgrace and bad luck. Family and friends frequently accuse her for her husband’s death and confiscate her home and possessions. She is no longer referred to as a woman but as a thing.
Destitute and abandoned by their own families, many widows resort to begging to survive. Some leave their communities to live with other rejected widows. Nearly 20,000 widowed women make their home in the city of Vrindavan, India, earning it the name of “the city of many widows.”
“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” James 1:27
Behind the facts and numbers are individual widows with stories of heartache. Kashvi* in India shares, “I lost my husband long ago. I live alone and no one cares for me or helps with my daily needs. I used to go for some work but now due to the pandemic, I am unable to get any work.”
Another Indian widow says, “I have two sons but they do not even think of me.”
These challenges are not unique to India. Many elderly widows in Eastern Europe live alone, forsaken by their children who travel to find jobs abroad. Widows in some Kenyan tribes are forced to marry one of their deceased husband’s brothers, although he may already have at least one wife. In Liberia, a civil war and an Ebola outbreak left hundreds of widows in deplorable situations.
Over the years, our faithful supporters have enabled us to provide food parcels to needy widows around the world. But in seeing other needs of widows—such as housing or self-help aid—we are launching a new program: Widows Care Fund. This program will provide food, shelter, self-help resources like sewing machines and animals, or other aid as needs and opportunities arise. In some cases, help is also given to widowers and abandoned wives.
Perhaps the most important and valued gift we seek to provide is Christ’s compassion, which is denied to so many of these women. After believers in India reached out to widows in one community, a bystander remarked, “As a neighbor, I have never seen anybody from this area taking time to visit these widows, but you never fail to show God’s love to them.”