Lessons

Widowhood and Women's Rights

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The exuberance of Holi, the holiday that includes flinging colored powders, was until recently thought inappropriate for widows. Aid groups, defying traditional prejudices against widows, now invite them to join celebrations like this Holi party in Vrindavan. Image by Amy Toensing. India, 2016.

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Betty Nanozi poses for a portrait in her fields. Betty, a widow for over a decade, first experienced property grabbing the moment she became a widow when her step children came into her home the night her husband died and took everything. Image by Amy Toensing and Kathryn Carlson. Uganda, 2016.

Betty Nanozi poses for a portrait in her fields. Betty, a widow for over a decade, first experienced property grabbing the moment she became a widow when her step children came into her home the night her husband died and took everything. Image by Amy Toensing and Kathryn Carlson. Uganda, 2016.

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Teenage girls outside Tarash Mandir, a short-stay home for young women and permanent facility for elderly widows in Vrindavan, India.

Teenage girls start their day at Tarash Mandir, a short-stay home for young women and permanent facility for elderly widows in Vrindavan, India. Known as “The City of Widows,” Vrindavan is also a place where families sometimes abandon their daughters, relying on the charity of this devout Hindu city to take them in. Image by Amy Toensing. India, 2016.

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Brides prepare for a group wedding ceremony hosted by the NGO, Guild of Service in Vrindavan. Image by Amy Toensing. India, 2016.

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A widow’s belongings surround her in a Varanasi ashram that for generations has taken in women from Nepal. Usually run by religious charities or social-aid groups, widows’ shelters in temple cities offer a roof overhead, a surface to sleep on, and enough food to keep a lean woman alive. Women who outlive their husbands are often seen at home as tainted and burdensome, so shelters also provide an escape from hostile relatives. Image by Amy Tensing. India, 2016

A widow’s belongings surround her in a Varanasi ashram that for generations has taken in women from Nepal. Usually run by religious charities or social-aid groups, widows’ shelters in temple cities offer a roof overhead, a surface to sleep on, and enough food to keep a lean woman alive. Women who outlive their husbands are often seen at home as tainted and burdensome, so shelters also provide an escape from hostile relatives. Image by Amy Toensing. India, 2016.

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Betty Nanozi walks through her land after farming all morning. Image by Amy Toensing and Kathryn Carlson. Uganda, 2016.

Betty Nanozi walks through her land after farming all morning. Image by Amy Toensing and Kathryn Carlson. Uganda, 2016.

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An elderly widow rests in her bed

An elderly widow rests in her bed at Tarash Mandir, a short-stay home for young women and permanent facility for elderly widows. This is the first and oldest home for widows in Vrindavan. Image by Amy Toensing. India, 2016.

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Widows sing and celebrate a group wedding ceremony held at their ashram by the NGO, Guild of Service. Traditionally, widows would not be welcome to participate in wedding preparation ceremonies due to the cultural belief that they bring bad luck. Image by Amy Toensing. India, 2016.

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On the 20th anniversary of the massacre of thousands of Bosnian Muslim men in Srebrenica, Advija Zukić is shielded from the sun as she lays to rest the remains of her husband, Alaga. Forensic experts are still working to identify victims. Image by Amy Toensing. Bosnia, 2015.

On the 20th anniversary of the massacre of thousands of Bosnian Muslim men in Srebrenica, Advija Zukić is shielded from the sun as she lays to rest the remains of her husband, Alaga. Forensic experts are still working to identify victims. Image by Amy Toensing. Bosnia, 2015.

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Two friends laugh together

Friends socialize at Tarash Mandir, a short-stay home for young women and permanent facility for elderly widows in Vrindavan. Image by Amy Toensing. India, 2016.

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Brides prepare for a group wedding ceremony hosted by the NGO, Guild of Service in Vrindavan. Image by Amy Toensing. India, 2016.

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Christine Namatovu and her son Andrew bring solace to each other in the house Namatovu’s in-laws tried to seize when her husband died. Pushing widows off their property is common practice in this region; Namatovu, with the help of lawyers, fought back. Image by Amy Toensing. Uganda, 2016.

Christine Namatovu and her son Andrew bring solace to each other in the house Namatovu’s in-laws tried to seize when her husband died. Pushing widows off their property is common practice in this region; Namatovu, with the help of lawyers, fought back. Image by Amy Toensing. Uganda, 2016.

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A young widow does her laundry at Tarash Mandir in Vrindavan

A young widow does her laundry at Tarash Mandir in Vrindavan. Image by Amy Toensing. India, 2016.

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Widows at Ma Dham ashram perform a Haldi ceremony for a young bride who will participate in a group wedding ceremony for marginalized women. Widows are often excluded from wedding preparations and ceremonies due to the cultural belief that they bring bad luck and were the cause of their husband’s death. Image by Amy Toensing. India, 2016.

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A hallway in the elderly widow area of Tarash Mandir, a short-stay home for young women and permanent facility for elderly widows in Vrindavan

A hallway in the elderly widow area of Tarash Mandir, a short-stay home for young women and permanent facility for elderly widows in Vrindavan. Vrindavan is known as the “City of Widows” because thousands travel here from all over India to live out the rest of their lives. They devote themselves to their Hindu religion, trying to offset the cultural belief they are bad luck and the cause of their husband’s death. Image by Amy Toensing. India, 2016.

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A young, soon to be bride, who would traditionally be forbidden to remarry because of her previous marriage and child, is surrounded by widows at Ma Dham ashram in Vrindavan during a Haldi Ceremony. Image by Amy Toensing. India, 2016.

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Elderly widows cook next to their beds at Tarash Mandir, a short-stay home for young women

Elderly widows cook next to their beds at Tarash Mandir, a short-stay home for young women and permanent facility for elderly widows in Vrindavan. Image by Amy Toensing. India, 2016.

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Hands of brides decorated with Mehndi (Henna) before a group wedding ceremony in Vrindavan. Image by Amy Toensing. India, 2016.

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A young mother who recently left her husband tends to her daughter at Tarash Mandir

A young mother who recently left her husband tends to her daughter at Tarash Mandir, a short-stay home for young women and permanent facility for elderly widows in Vrindavan. Image by Amy Toensing. India, 2016.

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Widows at Ma Dham ashram in Vrindavan help a young bride fasten a Nath (nose ring) as part of the Solah Shringra (sixteen adornments) traditionally placed on an Indian bride. Image by Amy Toensing. India, 2016.

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Young women rest in the courtyard of Tarash Mandir in Vrindavan. Image by Amy Toensing. India, 2016.

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Grooms wait for a group wedding ceremony to begin at Ma Dham ashram in Vrindavan. Image by Amy Toensing. India, 2016.

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A young woman learns mathematics as part of an educational and job training program at Tarash Mandir, a short-stay home for young women and permanent facility for elderly widows in Vrindavan. Image by Amy Toensing. India, 2016.

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A widow, soon to be remarried in a group wedding ceremony in Vrindavan, stands among 14 other brides who would otherwise be challenged to marry in traditional Indian culture—including other widows and inter-religious and inter-community unions. Image by Amy Toensing. India, 2016.

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Evening prayers at Tarash Mandir in Vrindavan. Image by Amy Toensing. India, 2016.

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Couples who would otherwise be challenged to marry because of social or financial limitations—including widows remarrying and inter-religious and inter-community unions—partake in a group wedding ceremony hosted by the NGO, Guild of Service in Vrindavan. Image by Amy Toensing. India, 2016.

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A young widow learns sewing as part of a job training program at Tarash Mandir, a short-stay home for young women and permanent facility for elderly widows in Vrindavan. Image by Amy Toensing. India, 2016.

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Fifteen couples line up to participate in a group marriage hosted by the NGO, Guild of Service in Vrindavan. Image by Amy Toensing. India, 2016.

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A teenage girl jokes with an elderly widow at Tarash Mandir, a short-stay home for young women and permanent facility for elderly widows in Vrindavan. Image by Amy Toensing. India, 2016.

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Brides and grooms participating in a group wedding ceremony give offerings to the “Sacred Fire” at Ma Dham ashram in Vrindavan. Image by Amy Toensing. India, 2016.

Common Core Standards:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.1: Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.2: Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.7: Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

Introducing the Lesson:

1 Look at the picture provided by your teacher.

a. What do you think is going on in the image?
b. Where do you think it was taken?
c. What stands out to you or what do you notice?

2. Make up a caption that you think explains the picture.

3. Share the caption with the class and explain how you developed the caption based on the questions above.

4. After everyone has shared their captions, read the actual captions from the article “For Widows, Life After Loss.”

5. Now that you know the actual caption, does that change your perception of the picture from when you initially viewed it? Discuss as a class.

Reading and Personal Response:

1. Read “For Widows, Life After Loss.” Make sure to view all the images and video in the "Resources" section.

2. As you read and view, make sure to take notes about your initial impressions and the following questions.

a. What is the story about?
b. What places are included?
c. Why focus on widows in these areas?

Discussion:

1. Divide into three groups (India, Uganda, and Bosnia and Herzegovina). As a group, answer the following questions for your assigned area,

a. Historically what has been the status of widows? (What happens to a women when her husband dies?)
b. What legal factors and policies impact the treatment of these women?
c. What cultural factors impact the treatment of these women?
d. What roles do family members play in the lives of widows (including siblings, in-laws, children, stepchildren, etc.)
e. What efforts are being made to achieve economic and/or social justice for widows?

i.   Who is leading these efforts?
ii.  What are they doing?
iii. Has it impacted widows and if so, how?

2. Present your findings to the class along with the group members' initial impressions.

3. Compare and contrast the stories presented in the piece. Discuss similarities and differences.

4. Looking at the "Widows and the Law" map, why are women who lose their husbands treated differently than men who lose their wives in so many countries?

a. What role does gender play in inheritance laws?
b. Why does gender impact legal rights?
c. Why does social and religious views about gender impact legal rights?
d. How do you address larger cultural issues that might impact a widow's ability to inherit or remain a member of a community?

Educator Notes: 

Introduction - You can copy pictures from the article online without the captions. Make sure you copy the captions too or view them online with the class. Students can work alone or in groups.

Reading - A full copy of the article including images and video is available here.

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