Jacki Zehner On Women, Money, and Changing the World  » Widows in Afghanistan

March 29, 2011

Widows in Afghanistan

This is why I care so much about working for women and girls around the world.

After more than 30 years of fighting, Afghanistan has one of the highest percentages (6-8%) of widows in the world. Although the Afghan government doesn’t have an accurate total for widows in the country due to the lack of a recent census, some officials estimate the number to be upwards of 2 million. By extrapolating from other demographic data, it’s thought that the average age of an Afghan widow is about 35, that 90% of widows have children to shelter and feed, and that 94% are unable to read or write.

In Afghanistan’s patriarchal society, the death of a husband not only diminishes a woman’s economic security, but also removes her social protections, putting her at the lowest level of society. As a result, the most pressing issues for most widows are making a living and finding some measure of social protection. To survive and provide for their children, many Afghan widows find menial work weaving carpets, working in tailor shops, begging on the streets, or becoming prostitutes.

In response to this crisis, numerous international volunteer groups, churches, and other non-governmental organizations, as well as ISAF teams of female military personnel are working in Afghan villages to equip widows with the life skills they require to survive. The goals of such programs are generally tow-fold: the first is to teach widows how to live independently and earn a living wage without relying on government handouts and terrorist provided security which subjects them to human rights abuses; and second to demonstrate that ISAF forces are indeed in their country to protect them and help them rebuild their shattered country so that they can provide a future for their children. “

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