December 8th, 2009
10:45 AM ET

Afghan widows struggle for survival

[cnn-video url=]

Women and girls continue to lack access to justice and education and suffer from high rates of violence eight years after the fall of the Taliban, according to a report released this week from the Human Rights Watch. The group calls on Afghanistan and the international community to keep women's rights a priority, even as President Obama outlines a new security strategy.

CNN's Atia Abawi examines the plight of a particular group of women - Afghan widows. Left without a husband and often no other male family member, widows struggle to survive because of few options for women to earn an income.  Options outside the home are limited where the Taliban holds sway in Afghanistan. And even in areas not overrun by the Taliban, women face risks outside the home because of cultural and societal pressures.

Update: Many readers have asked how they could help. Here are some organizations that have been approved in the past as part of CNN's Impact Your World project:
Women for Afghan Women 
Women for Women International
Vital Voices Global Partnership

soundoff (26 Responses)
  1. dys34256

    There is clearly a lot to know about this. I suppose you made various good points in features also.Keep functioning ,great job! sewing machine tables

    May 4, 2011 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Franchesca Garis

    Gives thanks for submitting. Was basically on the search for this information everywhere over the web. Would it be all right to use a section of this at my personal webpage if I publish a reference to this webblog?

    April 25, 2011 at 1:18 am | Report abuse |
  3. Wrench Set 

    womens issues are mostly related to their emotional well being;-.

    October 14, 2010 at 1:40 am | Report abuse |
  4. Angelina Ramirez

    there are lots of women issues that are mostly related to relationships and family'-"

    September 29, 2010 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Victoria Young

    women issues these days are more on equal rights with men and woman power-'-

    August 3, 2010 at 11:20 am | Report abuse |
  6. Isaac Gonzalez

    Women Issues these days are mostly about women empowerment and equal rights among men.:.-

    July 5, 2010 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Wooldediapalf

    Cool story, I didn't thought it was going to be so amazing when I looked at your link!!

    January 1, 2010 at 5:08 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Pegster

    Seems to me if you're going to tell these stories you must let us know how to help these people. It's too hard to watch/read the stories and feel unable to help. Why are you telling us about this if you are not also telling us how to help? I don't want to read it if all that I will feel is helpless in the face of the terrible treatment of women in Afghanistan. Enough, give us a place for action!

    December 15, 2009 at 8:10 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Anna

    I understand the suffering of these women. To respond to Barbara, I was married a month before my 21st birthday, and had three children. I raised my children as a widow too, startnig at age 25.
    I didnt have a house, or a mortgage, or a car of my own.

    Surely as a widow in this country, you had; death benefits? (Insurance?) Social secuirty benefits as a widow and for your children?

    By having housing, of your own you had: dignity, privacy, ability to make your own choices , and mistakes,and your own decisions, without scrutinity, independence. Compared to me, you were rich.

    I raised my three children in my parents home, I coudn't afford childcare. None of my extended family were willing or able to assist with reliable chilcare in order for me to attend school. I went to school at night to become a paramedic, somtimes missing class because my 'childcare' would not be relaible. I turned down jobs, over and over, that would have turned into careers with a living wage, becuase I had no promise of reliable childcare. Work places are more enlightened now, and will help with this, but there was no help back just 25 years ago.

    It is interesting that in the old and new testament, there are at least three type of widows. (Women who had been abandoned by their husbands were also considered widows, all children regardless of age, who don't have fathers present are considered orphans; in the old testament according to Jewish law.) There were also widows that were under 65, and widows indeed that were over 65. Religion was defined by one requirement in the new testament – a requirement to look after widows and children. (which by the way, included women who were abandoned.)

    I am this catagory of widow. My husband disappeared. I had no child support, no social security, no death benefits. Nothing. And much bias and bigotry. If I had had assistance I could have finished school and made a lving wage years ago, and I would have gladly paid it back. It would have saved me and my children much suffering.

    I am returning to college, in pre-law. it took me a long time. Just think what these women, these helpless women, could acheive if they had some assistance.

    So, be grateful for what you have in this country. Show your gratitude to those less fortunate – such as these helpless women. And use your own resourcefulness to get what you don't have.

    December 15, 2009 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Sarah

    John: Is it really important that you criticize Obama, for something Bush started? Honestly, when do you think the war started? Two months ago? I think not!!!! Maybe you should give him a chance.
    Another thing, all those out there who believe your life is wayyy more important then our sisters in other countries, good for you... eveyone is suffering, it's just how hard times go. I feel sorry for you too, but it's about the same as saying I'm sorry for myself.

    December 14, 2009 at 10:04 pm | Report abuse |
  11. ferozuddin azizi

    Particulary Afghan women have suffered huge violation in the last 30 years in afghanistan. I am optimistic that President Obama will help those places that are in great risk such as afghanistan, africa etc. President obama has a great spirit towards poor people. He always stands for those people that are less fortunate.

    thanks President Obama for helping afghanistan

    December 12, 2009 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Muneera

    To Barbara: I'm sorry for your situation. Life in America is expensive. But I know in this country, I still have basic support. I can go somewhere. These women have no options. Too many of us in this country want to keep the house, the cars etc. even when financial hardships. Sometimes we just have to make big adjustments and it works.

    To Sally: Islam has always been a way of life that promoted protection of the weak and vulnerable, esp. women and children. Islam is v. clear on these things. Yet we have men in power who distort it. Unfortunately so, they have the power to control the masses.

    And there is a big difference in the real teachings and CULTURAL traditions that seep into people's faith, unfortunately so. Thankfully, I grew up in an faith/ world educated Muslim family. I knew where I stood as a human. My parents were thoughtful, compassionate, humanistic people. I thank Allah for them everyday! People tend to associate faith with culture and if you are educated, it would be wise to figure that out in depth.
    I am Muslim yet cannot relate to the plight of these women only that we are ALL bound by sisterhood. It doesn't matter if you are from the Phillipines, China or Africa or Afghanistan. When a human being hurts, we should all feel the pain and take action in our own ways.

    December 8, 2009 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Serge Crespy

    "Winding-Down in Afghanistan" – United Nations peace-keeping soldiers should replace N.A.T.O. forces in Afghanistan towns and cities having greater than 10,000 population, to assist local police and to aid the locals, in general. Possibly, a ratio of U.N. personnel being no more than 1% of the population. N.A.T.O. forces and the Afghanistan Army would continue their efforts elsewhere, in Afghanistan, until law and order prevails throughout the country. Should assistance be required by U.N. personnel, N.A.T.O. forces would immediately be available.

    December 8, 2009 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |
  14. John Herrick

    Many of these widows aren't elderly. A large part of the population (80%) live in villages of 300 people or less. These areas primarily follow the old traditions of the culture. This happens in the large cities (Kabul, Khandahar, Herat, ect..) also but not at the same rate. Many girls are married at 13-15 years of age to a male in their mid 20s. With a male life expectancy of 42 years, the women often has several children and are widiowed by their early 30s. By the tradional culture women can't own or run a buisness or even have a regular job. Most women currently 20-40 have never been to school and lived their school age years during the time when girls weren't allowed to attend school. That means most can't read or write. If there is a male child, that child can run a family buisness and the mother must work in the back away from the customers (manufacturing rugs, clothes, baking, ect..) With no male relative they have no way to keep their deceased husbands old buisnees operating. The only "acceptable" job they can get according to the old traditions is begging. It's unbelievable how many women are in the streets begging for as little as 5 Afghanis a day (less than $1) so they can buy bread to feed their children. The next day they start all over. This is a cultural concept the Afghan women have been for over 1000 years. I'm not sure how this problem will be overcome as it is such a part how a majority of Afghans percieve the way the world works.

    John Herrick

    December 8, 2009 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
  15. Kim

    Barbara, I too feel for you - my husband and I deal with unemployment, possible foreclosure, and health care debt. However, we're talking about basics human physical needs here...these women aren't allowed to even leave their homes unaccompanied...they aren't allowed to hold a job or own a home...without income, how can they get food? Without family, who cares for them when their health declines? Without a place to live, or a family to take them in, what happens to them??? Are you really that self-pitying to think your situation is worse? We have no idea in this country how wealthy we really are. We should, AT THE LEAST, care that they have NO BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS. Hopefully there are small things many of us can do to help, but I'm not naive enough to think I can change the entire world. But let's not forget our humanity and compassion.

    December 8, 2009 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
  16. David

    I agree with Lorena, how can one help? What is a reputable organization that we could work through to provide assistance?

    December 8, 2009 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
  17. sally

    These women are trapped by the obscenely hypocritical culture of peaceful Islam. Men in these countries base their entire sense of worth on the purity and dignity of their women...supposedly, but treat them like human the name of allah.

    December 8, 2009 at 11:34 am | Report abuse |
  18. Hassan Reza

    how to help?

    December 8, 2009 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
  19. Charm

    @Barbara – I'm sorry for your situation, but your comment is a typical "What about me???" comment. We're all facing hard times in the U.S., but at least once the economy turns around and home values will go back-up, struggling Americans have more financial options that these Afghan widows will ever have.

    December 8, 2009 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
  20. Barbara Gudger

    I am an American Widow who struggles also.I would hope that American widows that struggle with unemployement, try to make mortgage payments that will increase yearly even thought the value of there homes are less than what they paid, worry about the rising costs of health care as they watch their Medicare beinifts grow smaller, and scrounge for marke downs and sales for groceries, would be a more applicable story!!

    Widows in American. What about us?

    Barbara Gudger

    December 8, 2009 at 11:03 am | Report abuse |
  21. Lorena

    I want to know how we can help these women and their children. Is there some reputable organization by which we can donate money so at least some of their circumstances can be alleviated?

    I simply cannot watch this and not do anything. Like many American families, both my husband and I have lost our jobs and yet watching the footage of the struggles many Afghan woman and children face, reminds me that,despite everything we have a chance to get through this. There is a moral obligation to help others who don't have the choices we have here in America.

    Help those in need. I can attest to that fact since I am also in that situation. It is the only way to relieve our circumstances.

    December 8, 2009 at 11:01 am | Report abuse |
  22. john

    Sad story, but WHY are we sending our troops over there to get killed??? Dumb decision by Obama, AGAIN,

    December 8, 2009 at 10:58 am | Report abuse |
  23. Muneera

    This is so heartbreaking. How does one survive if one does not have hope for the future? As women in this country we must band together to help these widows because we know all too well, it's not just about poverty, but the lack of social status in society, which makes their lives even more hopeless. I can't imagine being an Afghani woman much less one who is also an elderly widow. This is why Islam places such emphasis on helping widows and orphans bc they have nothing – no one. They are vulnerable. I worry about the fate of the cute little girl. And what if they come across health issues, what do they do then? Who pays for that?
    While I knew such conditions exist, I commend CNN for starting this feature and reminding us again of the situatons in this country. We must help.

    December 8, 2009 at 10:56 am | Report abuse |
  24. Anonymous

    Thanks for shedding light on this, Atia. This is an issue and demographic that needs great focus and assistance, providing sustainable means of income and educational opportunities so that these women will be active participants in their communities and nation overall. Widows and orphans become vulnerable targets that are often overlooked and yet need the much support. I hope we will continue to learn more about this from your reporting as well as on orphans and the youth.

    December 8, 2009 at 10:52 am | Report abuse |