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19 June 2013

Widows spared a life of begging

Widows spared a life of begging

Photo: Easter, helped by Leprosy Mission.

The Leprosy Mission England and Wales is creatingjob opportunities andproviding dignified lives for women left in extreme poverty following the death of their husbands. 

International Widows Day, 23 June, is a United Nations day of action to address the poverty and injustice faced by millions of widows and their dependents. Public events to mark the day are being held in countries including India, Nepal and Bangladesh, heralding what many hope will be a significant change in attitudes towards widows.

In many of the countries across Africa and Asia, a male-dominated society leaves poor women, particularly women with disabilities, very vulnerable. Widows or women whose husbands leave them are often left with no option but to beg in order to survive. 

National director Peter Walker said: “A recent study presented to UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon revealed that half of the world’s widows - more than 100 million – live in poverty and suffer social stigma and economic deprivation as a result of losing their husband.

“Our role is to help leprosy-affected people - men, women and children - to live dignified and fulfilled lives and, in order to do this, we work hard to provide them with a route out of extreme poverty.”

As well as providing medical treatment and care for leprosy patients, the Leprosy Mission provides opportunities for education, job training and employment - constantly seeking to address inequalities between the sexes and ensure individuals have support or a family provider.

As a result of a grant from the European Commission, the Leprosy Mission are part-funding a livelihood project in Bangladesh to benefit households headed up by women, in particular those affected by leprosy and disability. In 2012, 910 leprosy-affected households headed up by women received help to earn a living.

One lady, Easter, is 57 and lives on the outskirts of Delhi in India. Leprosy has left the mum-of-four with numb hands and feet as a result of nerve damage meaning she is no longer able to work.  Coming from a leprosy-affected family, Easter would have been left in a desperate situation 10 years ago when her husband died. However, now her children have education and training and they now support her as she approaches her retirement years.

She said:  “Without the Leprosy Mission, I would probably be begging on the street and homeless but I thank God for leading me to a dignified life.”