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Shining a light on widows’ plight

International Widows’ Day, on 23 June, acknowledges the challenges facing women who have lost their partners.

International Widows Day

The hand of friendship

If you need someone to talk to after experiencing the loss of a loved one, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.  

Services Australia has practical advice for pensioners who have lost a partner.  

First Light offers support for younger widows and widowers. 

Australian War Widows represents and helps widows from all conflicts. 

Many community groups, including National Seniors Australia branches, are very welcoming. 

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there are more than 1.2 million widowed people in Australia, most of them women. 

Women are more likely to face widowhood than men because they live longer and tend to marry men who are older than them. They also tend to be widowed for longer – 15 years compared to nine.  

Widows in Australia are more likely to experience financial hardship, including homelessness, than married or single women. 

Globally, widowed women and their dependents face poverty, injustice, humiliation, and social isolation. 

Not to be confused with Australia’s National War Widows’ Day – to be held this year on 19 October – Widows’ Day was established by the United Nations in 2010 in a bid to raise awareness about the challenges that widows face, advocate for their rights, and mobilise support to improve their lives. 

In many cultures, the death of a husband can plunge a woman into a state of extreme vulnerability. Without the protection and income of their spouses, many widows are left to fend for themselves and their children in societies that may marginalise them. 

In Australia, widows do not face the extreme legal and social discriminations seen in some other parts of the world. However, they encounter their own unique set of challenges – which apply equally to those who have lost a long-term de facto partner. 

The transition from being married or partnered to widowhood can be a traumatic experience, exacerbated by financial insecurity, social isolation, and the emotional toll of losing a partner.

One of the most significant issues for widows in Australia is financial instability. Many women, particularly those from older generations, may have relied on their husbands for financial support. 

The sudden loss of income can be devastating. Although Australia has a robust social security system, it may not always be sufficient to cover the increased expenses that come with widowhood, such as healthcare and housing. 

Older women are one of the fastest-growing groups in experiencing homelessness. For many widows, particularly those without significant savings or superannuation, the death of a spouse can lead to precarious housing situations. 

Additionally, the gender pay gap and lower lifetime earnings for women mean that widows are often less financially prepared for retirement than their male counterparts. 

Widowhood can also lead to social isolation. In a society where couple-based activities are the norm, widows often find themselves excluded from gatherings. 

The emotional impact of losing a partner is compounded by the loneliness that many widows experience. This isolation can have severe consequences for mental health, leading to depression and anxiety. 

Australia has made significant strides in ensuring the rights of widows through legal frameworks and advocacy. 

Laws around inheritance, property rights, and social security benefits are designed to protect widows. However, there is still work to be done in terms of raising awareness about these rights and ensuring that widows can access the support they need.

Related reading: UN, CPSA, ABS 


Brett Debritz

Brett Debritz

Communications Specialist, National Seniors Australia

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