A sustainable space for widows in rural Andhra Pradesh, India

The Issue

Women in rural Andhra Pradesh, India hold a position low in society, with widows and abandoned women taking the lowest rung. As this area is stricken with poverty, elderly widows are often put on the streets by the very families that they helped to raise. Young widows have an especially difficult time as they must struggle with food, rent, and education for their children (as well as fend off unwanted advances and verbal harassment). Consequently, young widows are frequently anemic as they go without food in order to feed or educate their children. Many of these women are forced to pull their children out of school so that the children can work to help with expenses and many marry their daughter when they reach maturity, as they are unable to continue their financial support. Unfortunately, this only deepens and adds to the cycle of poverty.

These widows are mistreated by a society that believes widows bring bad luck. Thus, these widows are excluded from festivals and occasions and suffer verbal harassment or worse. The resulting loneliness and feelings of exclusion result in high rates of low self-esteem and depression.

These women also struggle financially, more so than the impoverished but married woman. Agricultural labor is one of the primary occupations in the area and a large proportion of the population, both men and women, work in the fields. Women, however, make 60% LESS then their male counterparts for doing the same backbreaking work. Thus, where a married woman would have both her own salary PLUS her husband’s larger salary to raise her children, a widow must raise her family with much less than half of what she previously had. Due to the local superstitions regarding widowhood, widows are further restricted in their work and frequently not allowed to work in the early mornings because the field owners believe the widows will set a tone of misfortune for the day.

In order to combat these issues facing widows and abandoned women in rural Andhra, India, we created SHELTER.