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Widow and Human Rights

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The status of women in modern India is a sort of a paradox. If on one hand she is at the peak of ladder of success, on the other hand she is mutely suffering the violence afflicted on her by her own family members. As compared with past women in modern times have achieved a lot but in reality they have to still travel a long way. Their path is full of roadblocks. The women have left the secured domain of their home and are now in the battlefield of life, fully armored with their talent. They had proven themselves. But in India they are yet to get their dues. The sex ratio of India shows that the Indian society is still prejudiced against female. There are 933 females per thousand males in India according to the census of 2001, which is much below the world average of 990 females. There are many problems which women in India have to go through daily. These problems have become the part and parcel of life of Indian women and some of them have accepted them as their fate. A woman is a female human. The term woman is usually reserved for an adult, with the term girl being the usual term for a female child or adolescent. However, the term woman is also sometimes used to identify a female human, regardless of age, as in phrases such as “Women’s rights”. Unlike men, women are typically capable of giving birth.

A widow is a woman whose spouse or significant other has died, while a widower is a man whose spouse or significant other has died. The state of having lost one’s spouse to death is termed widowhood or occasionally viduity. The adjective form is widowed. The treatment of widows around the world varies, but unequal benefits and treatment generally received by widows versus widowers globally has spurred an interest in the issue by human rights activists. Human rights are commonly understood as “inalienable fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being.” Human rights are thus conceived as universal (applicable everywhere) and egalitarian (the same for everyone).

These rights may exist as natural rights or as legal rights, in both national and international law. The doctrine of human rights in international practice, within international law, global and regional institutions, in the policies of states and in the activities of non-governmental organizations, has been a cornerstone of public policy around the world. The idea of human right states, “if the public discourse of peacetime global society can be said to have a common moral language, it is that of human rights.” Despite this, the strong claims made by the doctrine of human rights continue to provoke considerable skepticism and debates about the content, nature and justifications of human rights to this day. Indeed, the question of what is meant by a “right” is itself controversial and the subject of continued philosophical debate.

Women’s Human Right
Due to some social structures, traditions, stereotypes and attitudes about women and their role in society, women do not always have the opportunity and ability to access and enforce their rights on the same basis as men. The UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is the key international human rights document that seeks to ensure the enforcement of the human rights of women on an equal basis with men. This package focuses on women’s rights as human rights in the context of CEDAW. It focuses on the reality of women’s lives and the experiences they have specifically because of their gender. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) was adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly and entered into force on 3 September 1981. Australia has been a party to CEDAW since 17 August 1983.CEDAW has often been described as an ‘international bill of rights’ for women. Enshrined within its preamble and 30 Articles are key principles of equality and an agenda for national action to end discrimination against women. It is based on the belief that basic human rights include the true equality of men and women. As of November 2008, 185 countries are parties to CEDAW. The rights enshrined in CEDAW broadly cover many aspects of women’s lives. Rights include political participation, health, education, employment, marriage, family relations and equality before the law.

Rights contained in CEDAW

CEDAW defines discrimination against women as:

Any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field. (Article 1). In becoming party to CEDAW, Australia committed itself to being a society that promotes policies, laws, organisations, structures and attitudes that ensure women are given the same rights as men. CEDAW facilitates this by promoting non-discriminatory practices in the following areas. Law, policy and prejudices:

Article 2 of CEDAW urges parties to CEDAW to work towards eradicating discrimination against women, including by introducing new laws or policies, changing existing discriminatory laws and providing sanctions for discrimination where appropriate. Article 3 of CEDAW requires parties to promote actively women’s full development and advancement, so they can enjoy human rights and fundamental freedoms on the same basis as men. Article 4 of CEDAW allows temporary special measures that favour women, on the basis that they are designed to speed up achievement of equality. Article 5 of CEDAW requires parties to address and change social and cultural patterns that reinforce the stereotyping of women and traditional gender roles, or that promote the relative superiority or inferiority of either of the sexes. Trafficking and exploitation of prostitution:

Article 6 of CEDAW requires parties to take all appropriate measures to suppress all forms of trafficking of women and exploitation of prostitution of women. It does not intend to prohibit prostitution but to address problems of exploitation of women through prostitution. Politics and public life:

Article 7 of CEDAW sets out women’s right to vote, to stand for election, to be involved in formulating government policy and to actively participate in non-government organisations (NGOs) and other bodies concerned with the public and political life of the country, such as political parties and lobby groups. Article 8 of CEDAW states that women should have the same opportunities as men to represent their countries internationally and be involved in the work of international organisations.

Article 9 of CEDAW requires that women have the same rights as men to acquire, retain or change their nationality and the nationality of their children. It provides that neither marriage to an alien nor a change of nationality by the husband during marriage will automatically change the nationality of the wife, make her stateless or force upon her the nationality of the husband. Article 9 also provides that women have the same rights as men regarding the nationality of their children. Education and training

Article 10 of CEDAW urges parties to ensure that women have the same opportunities as men in all aspects of education and training—from kindergarten to tertiary education. Women and girls should have access to the same curricula, professional staff and programs, especially those aimed at reducing any existing gender gaps within education, and opportunities to benefit from the same scholarships and study grants as men. Governments are required to ensure that all education is free from stereotypical concepts of the roles of men and women. Employment

Article 11 of CEDAW requires parties to eliminate discrimination in employment so as to ensure that women have the right to work, the right to the same training and employment opportunities as men and the right to receive equal pay for work of equal value. Women must also have access to the same benefits, compensatory schemes, and allowances as men, especially in relation to retirement and incapacity to work. This Article further requires that parties prohibit discrimination in the workplace on the basis of marriage, pregnancy and maternity, and introduce paid maternity leave without loss of benefits or career opportunities, and encourage provision of supporting social services to allow parents to combine family obligations with work responsibilities. Health

Article 12 of CEDAW requires parties to take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the field of health care to ensure women and men have equal access to health services including family planning. This Article further requires that parties provide appropriate health services in relation to pregnancy and post-natal care, and to grant free services where necessary. Economic life, sport and culture

Article 13 of CEDAW expressly requires that women have equal access to family benefits, forms of financial credit, including bank loans and mortgages, and the same rights as men to participate in recreational activities, sports and cultural life. Women living in remote and rural areas

Article 14 of CEDAW requires all parties to take all appropriate measures to ensure that the particular needs of rural women are met and to ensure rural women have access to health care services, training and employment opportunities, and social security schemes.

Equality before the law
Article 15 of CEDAW requires parties to treat women and men equally in all matters relating to the law, including civil matters, contractual matters, and property ownership. Family relations

Article 16 of CEDAW requires parties to ensure women and men have equal rights to freely choose a spouse and enter into marriage; the same rights and responsibilities as men within marriage and upon divorce, especially with regard to choosing a family name, a profession, and the rights of ownership of property; and equal rights in all matters relating to birth, adoption and raising of their children. Violence against women

Gender-based violence is a serious form of discrimination. While CEDAW does not contain an explicit reference to violence against women, the CEDAW Committee has issued a General Recommendation which states that violence directed against a women because she is woman or violence that affects women disproportionately is recognised and addressed as discrimination under the convention.Parties to CEDAW therefore have an obligation under CEDAW to take positive steps to eliminate all forms of violence against women. The CEDAW Committee asks countries to provide information in their regular reports about legislation and other measures it uses to protect women from violence, as well as the support services available to women.

A widow is a woman whose spouse or significant other has died, while a widower is a man whose spouse or significant other has died. The state of having lost one’s spouse to death is termed widowhood or occasionally viduity. The adjective form is widowed. The treatment of widows around the world varies, but unequal benefits and treatment generally received by widows versus widowers globally has spurred an interest in the issue by human rights activists.

Economic Position of Widow:
In India, there is often an elaborate ceremony during the funeral of a widow’s husband, including smashing the bangles, removing the bindi as well as any colorful attire, and requiring the woman to wear white clothes, the color of mourning. Earlier it was compulsory to wear all white after the husband was dead, and even a tradition known as sati was practiced, where the newly widowed woman would throw her body onto her husband’s burning funeral pyre and immolate herself. However, in modern-day culture the norms for clothing have gradually given way to colored clothing. Sati practice has been banned in India for more than a century. The ban began under British rule and is much owed to the persistence of the social reformer Ram Mohan Roy, who asserted that sati was a means of showing status rather than a universal ritual in India, and said, “there are other ways of doing it than by burning wives. “Certain matrilineal communities, the most notable being the Naris from Kerala, not only allow, but encourage widow remarriage. In these societies, children retain the family name of the mother, and women were permitted to divorce and remarry if they wished.

Maltreatment of Widow
Drafters should recognize that the maltreatment of widows encompasses various types of human rights violations. Widows face maltreatment that includes domestic violence, sexual assault, forced marriage, trafficking, property grabbing, conversion of property, forced evictions, as well as discrimination against women in regard to marriage, its dissolution and divorce, property and land rights, children and inheritance. Civil and criminal laws must address and prohibit all of these forms, protect the rights of women and girls, provide a legal remedy, and promote accountability for perpetrators.

Legislation should broadly define discrimination against women as “any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.” Legislation should also recognize that widows are entitled to freedom of movement, to access to social, educational or health services, to choose her residence, diet, attire and lifestyle, as well as equality with men in terms of citizenship. In addition, legislation should protect widows living with or affected by HIV/AIDS by prohibiting discrimination based on HIV/AIDS in the sale, lease, inheritance or disposition of other property.

Discrimination against Women with Respect to Marriage:
Legislation should guarantee women equal rights and responsibilities in marriage with men, irrespective of the form of family or the religion, custom, tradition or legal system under which it is established. Drafters should realize that discrimination against women in marriage encompasses several issues, including their civil status, ability to enter a marriage of their own choosing, legal capacity to own and administer property, right to inherit, nationality, and rights and responsibilities with regard to their children. Legislation should address and prohibit discrimination in all of these areas to promote and protect the rights of widows. Legislation should require the free and full consent of both parties to enter into a marriage and fully protect a woman’s right to choose, when, if and who she marries. Legislation should provide the same legal protections of equality of status between parties in de facto marriages, customary and non-formal marriages as those conferred upon parties in formal civil marriages. Legislation should state that both parents have the same rights and responsibilities for the care, maintenance and protection of children.

Legislation should provide the same legal protections of equality of status between parties in de facto marriages, customary and non-formal marriages as those conferred upon parties in formal civil marriages. Legislation should state that both parents have the same rights and responsibilities for the care, maintenance and protection of children. Drafters should repeal laws and prohibit practices that disallow women from entering into contracts; disallow women from accessing financial credit or preconditioning their access on male consent or guarantee; restrict a woman from holding property as the sole owner; disallow women from administering their own business; limit a woman’s right to effectively realizing or retaining her right to shared property with a man; limiting a woman’s right to seek a remedy before the courts; assigning a woman’s testimony or evidence lesser weight than a man’s before the law, and; restricting women’s right to choose her domicile on the same basis as men. Laws should prohibit laws and practices that allow polygamous marriages.

Discrimination against Women with Respect to Children:

Legislation should state that laws and practices that deny women equal rights and responsibilities with regard to their children constitute discrimination against women. Drafters should repeal laws and prohibit practices that automatically transfer guardianship to someone other than the mother upon the father’s death or dissolution of the marriage. Legislation should prohibit practices that allow a testator to will the guardianship of children to a person not their mother and state that any such provisions that do so are null and void. Laws should state that both parents, regardless of marital status, share equal rights and responsibilities for their children, including with regard to their guardianship, wardship and trusteeship. In cases where a child is conceived and born of an act of sexual assault, however, legislation should deny these equal rights, custody, guardianship, wardship and visitation privileges to the biological father who committed the rape. Law should state that a child has the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents, and the right to his or her identity, including family relations. Laws addressing the maltreatment of widows should state that a child may not be separated from the mother/widow against her will upon the death of the husband/father.

Discrimination against women in land and property rights:
Legislation should guarantee women equal rights as men to conclude contracts and to administer property. Specifically, legislation should grant women the independent right to enter a contract and access credit without requiring her husband or male relative’s permission or guarantee. Laws should treat women and men equally in all stages of procedure in courts and tribunals. Land reform and redistribution programs should ensure women’s right to be a beneficiary of these schemes on equal terms with men. Legislation should take into account traditional roles and how it may impede women’s access to land in registration systems. Administrative forms that employ the “head of household” concept discriminate against women in practice and should either be eliminate this concept or else include other measures to ensure women’s equal access. For example, land redistribution programs that require registration by the household head should ensure that such land is titled jointly in both spouses’ names, even if only one spouse registers.

Definition of Domestic Violence
Legislation should include a broad definition of domestic violence that includes physical, sexual, psychological and economic violence. In 2008, a group of experts at meetings convened by the United Nations recommended that “any definition of domestic violence that includes psychological and/or economic violence is enforced in a gender-sensitive and appropriate manner. Legislation should include the following provision in a definition of domestic violence: “No marriage or other relationship shall constitute a defence to a charge of sexual domestic violence under this legislation .” Drafters should strive to make the scope of persons to be protected by a domestic violence law clear and reflective of current reality and the dynamics of widow maltreatment. The scope of domestic violence legislation has, in many countries, been expanded to include not only married couples but those who are or have been in intimate relationships, as well as family members and members of the same household. Legislation protecting widows from domestic violence should ensure that the scope of persons includes widows’ in-laws, including parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins of the deceased, as well as any other heirs of the deceased under intestacy or customary laws.

Violation against Widow
Violence against women is one of the most widespread violations of human rights, affecting women of all backgrounds, ages, cultures and countries. Widows are no exception and may in fact be at particularly high risk of violence. In many countries, but particularly across Africa and Asia, widows find themselves the victims of physical and mental violence – including sexual abuse – related to inheritance, land and property disputes. With no rights to ownership of her husband’s property, a widow may be subject to abuse and cast out of her home altogether. In Africa, widow abuse cuts across ethnic, class and income boundaries, rendering widows among the most vulnerable and destitute women in the region. Widows are coerced into participating in harmful, degrading and even life-threatening traditional practices as part of burial and mourning rites. In a number of countries, for example, widows are forced to drink the water that their husbands’ corpses have been washed in. Mourning rites may also involve sexual relations with male relatives, shaving of the hair and scarification. Impact on Health

Poor nutrition, inadequate shelter and vulnerability to violence, combined with a lack of access to health care, can impact the physical and mental well-being of widows. The sexual and reproductive health needs of widows may go unaddressed, including the fact that widows are often the victims of rape. Widows are particularly vulnerable in the context of HIV and AIDS. Women may be kept unaware of the cause of their husband’s AIDS-related death and made to undergo ritual cleansing through sex with male relatives regardless of HIV status. The economic insecurity stemming from widowhood also drives some women and girls to sex work.

Widowhood in India is a complex institution fraught with contradictions in meaning and practice. Clearly, the lives of many widows in India do not conform to the projected ideals of widowhood. Equally clearly, the ideals of widowhood have been redefined over time and place. In the Indian society, particularlyamong the Bengalis, widowhood is a factor , which serves to isolate a particular section of women from the mainstream of life and with age, their condition deteriorates. There are numerous factors, which influence the stressful nature of the transition to widowhood, including the ego-strength of the survivor, the nature of previous relationships, availability of support from others, health facilities, loss of income and anticipated loneliness. To add to their plight, restrictions are imposed upon their food and clothing habits, participation in social functions and remarriage is prohibited for them. Perhaps more than any other social institution in India, widowhood exposes the gap between cultural and social realities, between precept and practice.

To begin with, nearly 10 percent of all women and 55 percent of women over fifty years are widows: this social reality undermines the projected ideal that all women should remain devoted chaste wives. Within the Indian culture, the highest ideal for a woman are virtue, purity, and allegiance to her husband. From this tradition stems the custom in which a wife immolates herself on the funeral pyre of her deceased husband as proof of her loyalty.Sati was derived from the ancient Indic language term, sat, which means truth. Sati has come to signify both the act of immolation of a widow and the victim herself, rather than its original meaning of “a virtuous woman”.The term “sati” is associated with the Hindu goddess Sati. In the Hindu mythology, Sati who was the wife of Lord Shiva, consumed herself in a holy pyre. She did this in response to her father’s refusal to invite Shiva to the assembly of the Gods. She was so mortified that she invoked a yogic fire and was reduced to ashes. Self-sacrifice, like that of the original Sati, became a “divine example of wifely devotion”. The act of Sati propagated the belief that if a widow gives up her life for her husband, she will be honored.

This concept of meriting heaven through self-sacrifice became embedded within the minds of many as the only assurance for a female to gain salvation. A female’s life must be lived in full devotion to her husband; otherwise she will be doomed for eternity and will live a cruel existence as a widow. Only a woman who is sexually and legally possessed by a husband is respected within the Indian society. By sacrificing herself a widow saves herself from the cruel existence of widowhood and ends the threat she possesses for society. She is considered a member of society who has unrestrained sexual vigor, and thus may harm society with immoral acts. A widow was seen as having irrepressible sexual powers and could be a danger to her society. Remarriage in India was not favored. A widow was not allowed to remarry, nor was she able to turn to religious learning and hence lived a bleak and barren life. The pain that a sati endures on the pyre was less painful of an experience than the torture she must endure physically and emotionally as a widow. If a widow decided not to join her husband, she was separated from the social world of the living and considered to be a “cold sati”. She was only allowed to wear rags and was treated by her family and members of society as an impure, polluted being. The prohibition, in which she is unable to adorn herself, was considered justifiable, done for the widow’s “own interest”.


Varanasi is one of India’s holiest cities. Thousands of pilgrims come to this city to bathe and wash away their sins in the holy Ganges River. Hindus believe that if they die in this city then they will go straight to Nirvana (heaven), which is one of the reasons why so many widows stay here. Another reason is that many of those who come to Varanasi on pilgrimage leave their widows behind so that the families don’t have to take care of them anymore. For these reasons the city is crowded with widows living on the streets and having no one to care for them—an estimated 20,000 of them. Many survive by begging or by prostitution. Some have even lost their sanity from these desperate living conditions. In James 1:27 it says that God wants us to take care of widows so that they will have a better life.


“Vrindavan … a place well known and revered as the birthplace ofLord Krishna.Also the dwelling of the widows, who to be helped need topray and sing Bhajans, thus giving them the right to a free meal. Variousstudies on the issue have repeatedly highlighted the pitiable conditions of these women. In a study sponsored by National Commission for Women in 1996 titled “The Widows of Vrindavan” itwas estimated that at the time there were more than 5000 widows and destitute women in thecity of Vrindavan, living in “pitiable and pathetic conditions” and having been abandoned by theirfamilies had no “financial, social or emotional support”.

Towards progress for widows
As we all know the life of widow in India is really difficult. She gets avoided in every state of her life. She has to live alone and without any enjoyment in life. On festivals and especially on marriages they are restricted to attend these things. They are treated as they are not a human being . Remarriage can give widows their life again, but in India even this is also hard. Some places the condition is very bad that they can’t eat properly. Time is going forward but some of these things in India are not moving forward. But in Early 19th Century widow’s progress is came into in light.

There were many law established to support the widows. The Hindu Widows’ Remarriage Act, 1856, also Act XV, 1856, enacted on 25 July 1856, legalized the remarriage of Hindu widows in all jurisdictions of India under East India Company rule. In order to protect both what it considered family honour and family property, upper-caste Hindu society had long disallowed the remarriage of widows, even child and adolescent ones, all of whom were expected to live a life of austerity and abnegation The Hindu Widows’ Remarriage Act of 1856, enacted in response to the campaign of PanditIshwar Chandra Vidyasagar, provided legal safeguards against loss of certain forms of inheritance for a remarrying Hindu widow though, under the Act, the widow forsook any inheritance due her from her deceased husband. Especially targeted in the act were Hindu child widows whose husbands had died before consummation of marriage.

The Law
The preamble and sections 1, 2, and 5:
Whereas it is known that, by the law as administered in the Civil Courts established in the territories in the possession and under the Government of the East India Company, Hindu widows with certain exceptions are held to be, by reason of their having been once married, incapable of contracting a second valid marriage, and the offsprings of such widows by any second marriage are held so be illegitimate and incapable of inheriting property; and Whereas many Hindus believe that this imputed legal incapacity, although it is in accordance with established custom, is not in accordance with a true interpretation of the precepts of their religion, and desire that the civil law administered by the Courts of Justice shall no longer prevent those Hindus who may he so minded from adopting a different custom, in accordance with the dictates of their own conscience, and Where it is just to relieve all mach Hindus from this legal incapacity of which they complain, and the removal of all legal obstacles to the marriage of Hindu widows will tend to the promotion of good morals and to the public welfare;

It is enacted as follows:

Section I
No marriage contracted between Hindus shall be invalid, and the issue of no such marriage shall be illegitimate, by reason of the woman having been previously married or betrothed to another person who was dead at the time of such marriage, any custom and any interpretation of Hindu Law to the contrary notwithstanding. Section 2

All rights and interests which any widow may have in her deceased husband’s property by way of maintenance, or by inheritance to her husband or to his lineal successors, or by virtue of any will or testamentary disposition conferring upon her, without express permission to remarry, only a limited interest in such property, with no power of alienating the same, shall upon her re-marriage cease and determine as if she had then died; and the next heirs of her deceased husband or other persons entitled to the property on her death, shall thereupon succeed so she same …. Section 5

Except as in the three preceding sections is provided, a widow shall not by reason of her re-marriage forfeit my property or any right to which she would otherwise be entitled, and every widow who has re-married shall have the same rights of inheritance as she would have had, had such marriage been her first marriage. Other Laws

Not only this law, there are so many laws which try to protect the widows like The Hindu Woman’s Right to Property Act, The Hindu Succession Act etc.. Under Hindu Woman’s Right to Property Act a widow was entitled to a limited interest over the property of her husband – what was to be termed as Hindu widow’s estate.

Absent in statistics, unnoticed by researchers, neglected by national and local authorities and mostly overlooked by civil society organizations – the situation of widows is, in effect, invisible. Yet abuse of widows and their children constitutes one of the most serious violations of human rights and obstacles to development today. Millions of the world’s widows endure extreme poverty, ostracism, violence, homelessness, ill health and discrimination in law and custom. To give special recognition to the situation of widows of all ages and across regions and cultures, the United Nations General Assembly declared 23 June 2011 as the first-ever International Widows’ Day.

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