Widows hold hands in Chapaguan, Nepal

Life after loss: Widows share their stories of grief and survival

Updated 10:51 AM ET, Fri June 23, 2017

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(CNN)The UN calls them the "invisible women."

In many countries, they're forced into marriage to retain their social status. In some cultures, they're stigmatized. And around the world, millions of them live in poverty and endure violence.
They are widowed women. And from the USA to Kenya to Nepal, they often find themselves lacking support, both emotionally and economically.
Too often, their plight goes unnoticed. But despite the challenges, they find unlikely sources of strength.
Today, on International Widows Day, seven widows around the world share their stories of grief, loss and survival.
These are their stories, in their own words. Their answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Santu Kamari Maharjan, 55, Nepal

"When I was 32, my husband was diagnosed with kidney failure and I had to sell our field for his treatment. After he died, I faced a great deal of hardship. My children were very small and surviving each day was really tough. We'd been married since I was 19, I was grieving, but I had to get up and earn some money, I had to work in other people's fields so I could clothe and feed my children. It was torture, but I couldn't give up for my children.
    As a widow, I faced discrimination. If I spoke, everyone would laugh and clap at me. I was harassed by my own sister-in-laws -- they taunted me about running away with another man and marrying again in secret. I didn't have a choice but to just tolerate it. I didn't have anyone to talk to or to help me. I felt ashamed and desperate.
    When the 2015 earthquake struck, I was inside my home eating a meal. I closed my eyes and had to wait for the ground to stop shaking before I could escape. My house collapsed later on and all of my belongings were buried. My situation had been scary enough before, but then it got worse. I realized I had even less than before. I felt lower than I ever had. I was heartbroken, my house was all I had. Everything I owned was gone in seconds.
    I didn't have any income after the earthquake. All of the villages collected food and shared it around. The relief efforts giving out materials prioritized the people who could go out and speak, mainly men. Single women couldn't go, we weren't allowed to ask for what we needed. If a woman is single, she will be told to keep quiet because she doesn't have a husband.
    After the earthquake, a non-profit organization called Women for Human Rights helped 15 of us to build a bamboo shelter so we could start up an agriculture business. They provided us with pipes for water supplies, buckets and so on. We work hard to help ourselves, and one another. It feels good to be earning an income for ourselves after all the challenges we have faced."

    Shams El Salem, 50, and Nazla Muhammed Al Hanfish, 53, Syrian refugees in Lebanon

    Shams El Salem
    "In 2002, my husband got bone cancer. It only took the disease two years to kill him.