• No access to credit or other economic resources, even for childcare or education.
  • No rights or limited rights, to inheritance or land ownership under customary and religious law.
  • Dependent on the charity of their husbands’ relatives.
  • Disowned by relatives and made homeless in countries like India, forcing many women to seek informal work as domestic labourers or turn to begging or prostitution.
  • In some cases, widows can become liable for the debts of a deceased spouse.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Poor nutrition, inadequate shelter and vulnerability to violence, combined with a lack of access to health care.
  • Sexual and reproductive health needs of widows may go unaddressed.
  • 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.

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