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 Table of Contents  
Year : 2022  |  Volume : 8  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 127-129

Women widowed in the COVID-19 – The victims of invisible virus

Department of Psychiatric Social Work, National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (Institute of National Importance), Bengaluru, Karnataka, India

Date of Submission31-May-2022
Date of Decision20-Aug-2022
Date of Acceptance20-Sep-2022
Date of Web Publication16-Dec-2022

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Mysore Narasimha Vranda
Department of Psychiatric Social Work, National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (Institute of National Importance), Bengaluru - 560 029, Karnataka
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/tjp.tjp_19_22

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How to cite this article:
Vranda MN, Cicil RV. Women widowed in the COVID-19 – The victims of invisible virus. Telangana J Psychiatry 2022;8:127-9

How to cite this URL:
Vranda MN, Cicil RV. Women widowed in the COVID-19 – The victims of invisible virus. Telangana J Psychiatry [serial online] 2022 [cited 2023 Jun 5];8:127-9. Available from: https://tjpipstsb.org/text.asp?2022/8/2/127/363968

Dear Sir,

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the lives of millions worldwide. A report by the UN[1] viewed it from a gender angle, highlighting that the COVID-19 crisis has intensified the existing gender inequality and gender discrimination globally. The report indicated that it impacted women and girls much more than the others, increased the risk for abuse and neglect, and reduced options for accessing health and other services. The COVID-19 outbreak is creating an unprecedented number of widows worldwide. As of November 2021, the number of COVID-19 cases has crossed 34.6 million, with 4.69 lakh deaths in India. Twice as many men have died of COVID-19 as women in India, with men accounting for 69% of fatalities.[2],[3],[4] More than 90% of deaths were above 40 years of age. The pandemic is estimated to leave behind nearly 16 million newly bereaved people globally.[5] When it comes to the pandemic, the sudden, unanticipated death due to COVID-19 is traumatizing for widows and leaves them ill-prepared to navigate psychological consequences. There is an unexpected shift in their role from the “caregiver” to the “sole breadwinner” of the family. There have been reports that many COVID-19 widows are unable to avail cash benefits from the government and legally secure their inheritance, land, and ownership rights.[6],[7]

  Gender Vulnerability and Women Widowed in the Disaster/Conflict/Pandemic Situations Top

Gender is a socially constructed role rather than genetic. It is shaped through the process of socialization. The attributes that society ascribes to man and woman are transmitted from the generation to generation through folkways and mores that various socialization agencies greatly influence. Vulnerability is generally defined as “the diminished capacity of an individual or group to anticipate, cope with, resist and recover from the impact of natural or human-made hazards.”[8] The root causes of this vulnerability lie in the limited access to resources. Disaster and emergencies can push women into economic deprivation and poverty, which are closely linked to vulnerabilities. Women's vulnerability in disaster or conflict has been well documented. Both disasters and conflicts tend to impact women more than men.[9] The reasons that make women vulnerable in disaster are the preexisting social practices and societal prejudices. COVID-19 has disproportionately widened the gap between women and girls to the preexisting inequalities and increased vulnerability factors, heightened risk for abuse, and reduced options to access the services.[10] A study conducted 1 year after the postearthquake revealed that women widowed in the earthquake had significantly higher posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and grief than married women. Widows of reproductive age, from nuclear families, with lesser social support showed higher PTSD compared to married women.[11] The prevalence of prolonged grief disorder (PGD) was 21.8%, an average of 2 years, among women who have widowed communal violence. Compared with widows without PGD, widows with PGD significantly reported higher disability and psychiatric distress, including suicidality.[12]

Women widowed due to COVID-19 have to bear the social stigma, increased financial responsibility, and face social and cultural exclusion and marginalization in society.[6],[7] A sense of loss due to the death of their spouse contributes to the psychological vulnerability that makes them prone to depression and other emotional disturbances, reducing their ability to adapt to situations and the recovery process. The recent article by Wenham and Davies states that WHO[13] has neglected to mainstream gender in the policies and practices in the prevention of pandemic outbreaks. There is a need to understand the psychosocial impact of loss, trauma, and distress of women widowed in the COVID-19 and their rehabilitation needs to facilitate effective gender-inclusive care and service delivery in India. It is well documented that crises disproportionately impact women and girls, whether conflict or natural disaster-related.

Previous studies on the gender impact of Ebola and Zika viruses revealed human rights violations, increased abuse and violence, loss of jobs, and more significant gender disparity in accessing health care and welfare services among women compared to men.[14] This is similar to the disease outbreaks as well.[15] It is crucial to understand the psychosocial and rehabilitative needs of women widowed due to COVID-19 to bring gender-sensitive and inclusive care and programs at the policy level to rebuild the lives of the widows. We do not have national data on the number of women widowed in COVID-19. The WHO[16] calls on global researchers to invest in gender-sensitive research on the adverse effects of COVID-19 on health, society, and the economy. There is limited availability of sex- and age-disaggregated data in COVID-19 response. Thus, gender-sensitive programming that considers gender mainstreaming is a must. There is a need to frame the guidelines for integrating gender-inclusive policy in disaster preparedness and emergency response, considering the gender vulnerabilities of women in a pandemic situation. Women's empowerment should be a key factor in keeping given the women-centric goals of the Millennium of Development of Goals and Sustainable Development Goals[17],[18] to promote gender equity. The government should consider budgeting for risk reduction in disaster and emergency management based on these gender-based differences. Women's involvement and decision-making in the process, planning, and implementation of gender-responsive recovery in the disaster and emergency recovery framework are essential and need of the hour.

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

UN Women. The First 100 Days of the COVID-19 Outbreak in Asia and the Pacific: A Gender Len. Bangkok: UN Women Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific; 2020. Available from: https://asiapacific.unwomen.org/en/digital-library/publications/2020/04/the-first-100-days-of-the-covid-19-outbreak-in-asia-and-the-pacific#view. [Last accessed on 2020 Aug 01].  Back to cited text no. 1
Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. COVID-19 Statewise Status (Click to expand). COVID-19 INDIA. Available from: https://www.mohfw.gov.in/. [Last accessed on 2022 Apr 01].  Back to cited text no. 2
Kushwaha S, Khanna P, Rajagopal V, Kiran T. Biological attributes of age and gender variations in Indian COVID-19 cases: A retrospective data analysis. Clin Epidemiol Glob Health 2021;11:100788.  Back to cited text no. 3
Sharma S. India News. 90% of Those Killed by COVID in India are Older Than 40, 69% are Men. 02 September, 2020. Available from https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/90-of-those-killed-by-covid-in-india-are-older-than-40-69-are-men/story-glg0Ct4rHQ1YVvZgnckUcM.html. [Last accessed on 2022 Jul 30].  Back to cited text no. 4
Tang S, Xiang Z. Who suffered most after deaths due to COVID-19? Prevalence and correlates of prolonged grief disorder in COVID-19 related bereaved adults. Global Health 2021;17:19.  Back to cited text no. 5
Arora M. The Indian women widowed by Covid-19BBC reporter, India Published, 25 October. Available from: https://www.bbc.com/news/business-58149183. [Last accessed on 2021 Dec 01].  Back to cited text no. 6
Khanna M. India's COVID-19 Widow – Why Women Need Protection Under International Law, 31 August, 2021. Available from: https://www.thinkglobalhealth.org/article/indias-covid-19-widows. [Last accessed on 2021 Dec 02].  Back to cited text no. 7
Blaikie P, Cannon T, Davis I, Wisner B. At Risk: Natural Hazards, People's Vulnerability and Disasters. London: Routledge; 1994.  Back to cited text no. 8
ADPC (Asian Disaster Preparedness Center). Disaster Proofing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). 2010. Available from: http://www.adpc.net: http://www.adpc.net/v2007/downloads/2010/oct/mdgproof ing.pdf. [Last accessed on 2021 Dec 05].  Back to cited text no. 9
United Nations. Policy brief – The Impact of COVID-19 on Women. 9th April 2020. Available from https://www.un.org/sites/un2.un.org/files/policy_brief_on_covid_impact_on_women_9_apr_2020_updated.pd. [Last accessed on 2022 May 01].  Back to cited text no. 10
Kedae J, Dhavale HS. Effects of the Marathwada earthquake on widows and married women. Ind J Soc Work 2002;53:1-12.  Back to cited text no. 11
Saiyad M, Abbott CH, Ray A, Vankar GK, Kumar A, Patel C, et al. Prolonged Grief Disorder among Indian Women Widowed by Communal Violence. J Palliat Care Med 2021;3:165. doi:10.4172/2165-7386.1000165.  Back to cited text no. 12
Wenham, W (she/her/hers) and Davies SE (she/her/hers). WHO runs the world – (not) girls: gender neglect during global health emergencies, International Feminist Journal of Politics 2022;24:415-38. DOI: 10.1080/14616742.2021.1921601.  Back to cited text no. 13
Oxfam International. Dominican Republic Gender Analysis: Study of the Impact of the Zika Virus on Women, Girls, Boys and Men. Oxfam UK: Oxfam International; 2017.  Back to cited text no. 14
Everything on Her Shoulders: Rapid Assessments on Gender and Violence Against Women and Girls in the Ebola Outbreak in Beni. DRC, 2019. Available from: https://www.rescue.org/report/everything-her-shoulders-rapid-assessment-gender-and-violence-against-women-and-girls-ebola. [Last accessed on 2020 Aug 06].  Back to cited text no. 15
WHO. Gender and COVID-19 – Advocacy Brief. Available from: https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/WHO-2019-nCoV-Advocacy_brief-Gender-2020.1. [Last accessed on 2021 Dec 10].  Back to cited text no. 16
United Nations. 2015b. Goal 5-Achieving Gender Equality and Empowering Women and Girls: Is SDG 5 Missing Something? Available from: https://unchronicle.un.org/article/goal-5-achieving-gender-equality-and-empowering-women-and-girls-sdg-5-missing-something. [Last accessed on 2022 Jan 01].  Back to cited text no. 17
United Nations. 2018. The 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals: An Opportunity for Latin America and the Caribbean (LC/G.2681-P/Rev. 3), Santiago, 2018. Available from https://repositorio.cepal.org/bitstream/handle/11362/40156/25/S1801140_en.pdf. [Last accessed on 2022 Jan 01].  Back to cited text no. 18


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