Today is International Widow's Day. It is a day set aside to consider the lives of the more than 245 million widows worldwide. It is a day to consider the lives of their children. In many places in the world when a woman is widowed, she becomes an outcast. She becomes subject to prejudice, discrimination, superstition, and exploitation because she loses not only social status but the economic security that her husband provided. Even in the West, in the United States, a woman's life becomes much more precarious when her husband dies.
The care of widows, orphans, and aliens is a divine command. The Bible speaks of social inclusion, justice, and economic provision for them over and over in the book of Deuteronomy alone. Widows were to be included in community celebrations. The Festival of Weeks and the Festival of Booths, both harvest celebrations, were to include widows, orphans, and aliens.
"Rejoice before the LORD your God -- you and your sons and your daughters, your male and female slaves, the Levites residents in your towns, as well as the strangers, the orphans, and the widows who are among you -- at the place that the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his name" (Deuteronomy 16:11).
Widows, orphans, and aliens have legal protection. "Do not deprive resident aliens or orphans of justice. Do not take a widow's garment for a pledge" (Deuteronomy 24:17). The Bible goes on to instruct people that when they harvest their fields, olive trees, and grape vines that they leave some behind for widows, orphans, and strangers in the land. This is economic provision.
The tithe is considered the sacred portion of our income. It does not belong to us, but is dedicated to God. God commands that we set aside this portion so there will be food in God's house (Malachi 3:10). God promises blessings if we do this, but God also promises judgment against the nations who oppress widows, orphans, and strangers (Malachi 3:5).
These commandments notwithstanding, many millions of women still suffer. The Loomba Foundation works to help widows and orphans with education, health, small businesses, and social isolation. Its poverty reduction strategies intend to help achieve the Millennium Development Goals by helping widows and their children out of poverty. This organization provided the push behind the establishment of International Widow's Day first observed in the United Kingdom in 2005. Now it seeks support to have the day recognized by the United Nations.
Worldwide, women become widows for a myriad of reasons including HIV/AIDS, ethnic cleansing, poverty, and armed conflict. War kills warriors and leaves their wives and children behind with wounded lives. They are uncounted casualties of war. This is a day to remember widows and children of our service members and peace workers who have died in our current and past wars. It is a day to remember the widows and children of our enemies in war. It is a day to rededicate ourselves to efforts to establish justice and peace.
Dr. Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar who publishes lectures and essays at JustPeaceTheory.com. She received her PhD in religion and society from Temple University and taught Christian ethics at United Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School.