War Widows of Afghanistan: Struggling To Survive

After decades of conflict Afghanistan is a country of war widows, with approximately 2.5 million widows overall and over 50,000 living in the Kabul area alone. Their hardships are increased by the fact that most are illiterate and uneducated.

In a country where the future of a woman depends on her husband Afghan widows end up feeling powerless, especially when a woman loses her economic independence and her place in society. Widows are often seen as a bad omen by Afghan society and without a network of real financial support many of them are living in extreme poverty. The options for remarriage are limited. It is sometimes possible for a widow to marry a relative of her late husband; her challenges become much greater if she chooses to remarry outside the family because that sometimes leads to losing custody of her children.

The average working widow in Afghanistan earns as little as $20 a month, which barely puts food on the table. Often widows are seen begging in Kabul's traffic-choked streets, clutching their children. Theoretically, war widows are entitled to a military pension from the government but this is for a limited time—and without a male to help navigate the Afghan bureaucracy the promised pensions often go unpaid. Widowed women are also at greater risk of emotional problems because of social exclusion, forced marriages, and gender-based violence. Sometimes they are even forced to go into prostitution. In some cases the emotional stress of everyday life leads to suicide.