The term widow refers to a woman whose spouse has died and who has not, through choice or through circumstance, remarried. Only a woman can be a widow; a man who has lost his wife and who has not remarried is referred to as a widower. Throughout history, widows have often found themselves in difficult situations, as it was often the man who provided money, food, clothing, and shelter to a family. Widowhood often forced women to find ways to provide and care for children without the help of their husbands. This is not as much of an issue in modern times, as many women are more independent and more able to provide for themselves and for their families than they were in the past.
A widow can be treated in many different ways based on the culture in which she lives. In many modern societies, she is able to remain financially independent by working, conducting business, living from inheritance or accepting assistance from a wealthy relative. This has been the case for some time; even in strongly male-centered societies, women have managed to survive and raise families on their own throughout recent history.
It is not always the case that the widow is able to remain financially stable and care for a family without the help of her deceased husband. Often, the loss of the family's primary source of income and support can plunge the family into a state of relative poverty. Women are often forced to remarry; if they do not do so, they risk losing their children. In some past societies, a widow was actually required by law to remarry. Sometimes she was even forced to marry the brother of her deceased husband; he was put to shame if he refused to accept her.
Some of the stigmas and consequences historically associated with widowhood were much more dire in a number of societies. In some past Indian cultures, it was customary for a widow, voluntarily or otherwise, to burn herself to death at the funeral pyre of her deceased husband. Widow burning is, in Hindu communities, referred to as Sati; it was so named because of a goddess named Sati who self-immolated after her husband was greatly humiliated by her father. Sati is illegal in most modern societies, but it shows how a culture can negatively react to a situation in the extreme. Despite its general illegality, the rite is still performed on occasion.