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Widows for Peace through Democracy, (WPD).
Registered Charity Number: 1117334
36 Faroe Road
Shepherds Bush
W14 0EP
United Kingdom

Frequently Asked Questions:

The Widows Charter

Our WIDOWS’ CHARTER provides leverage to inform and influence law reform and the drafting of new constitutions in the post-conflict transition period.

Our Mission

  • Our mission is to ensure that widows have a voice at peace negotiation tables, since widows and wives of the disappeared confront specific problems vastly different from those of other women.

Some Important Statistics

  • The first priority is to gather reliable statistics on the numbers of widows & wives of the disappeared, as this is essential for effective policy development. Statistics must be collected on ages, the number of children or dependents, circumstances of widowhood, social support systems (family, state, NGO), economic and health status, legal status, status under customary law, experience of violence, and “coping strategies”.
  • Conventional methods of gathering data (census, household & demographic surveys) are inappropriate methodologies for countries in the aftermath of war. Widows are often homeless, or wandering between one relative’s household to another; furthermore, widows, if able to be interviewed on their own, are reluctant to divulge information to strangers.
  • Support and training must be given to widows’ organisations on the ground to undertake simple surveys in a sample of cities, towns, villages and refuge/IDP camps which will reveal the realities of widows’ lives at the grassroots. These mapping & profile projects (already successfully implemented by the widows’ group in Nepal) should be developed in collaboration with the relevant government Ministries.
  • This “capacity building” exercise empowers the widows enhancing their value and status, and builds up their confidence to articulate their needs and participate in decision-making at all levels.

Which Groups We Work With?

  • We work with widows’ groups primarily in:
    • South Asia: Afghanistan, Nepal, North East India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistani Administered Kashmir [in reference of the North West Frontier Province]
    • Africa: Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo [ex-Zaire], Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania
    • The Middle East: Iraq, Islamic Republic of Iran, Turkey
  • Since 9/11, WPD has mostly focused on widows & wives of the missing in conflict-afflicted countries.




A Draft Protocol for adaptation to specific country, legal, social, cultural and economic situations.


Discrimination against and abuse of WIDOWS occurs across a wide spectrum of cultures, religions, ethnic groups, regions, irrespective of the economic or education status of the women subject to this oppression


Attitudes to and treatment of widows varies from relatively mild indifference and social exclusion (prevalent in some developed countries of the West) to extreme mental, physical and sexual torture, and even to murder.  In Tanzania, a HelpAged study found that in one year as many as 400 elderly women, mostly widows, were murdered or stoned to death accused of being witches. In several South Asian communities the vernacular words used for widows mean witch, sorceress, prostitute, whore.  Across ethnic groups widows are systematically and routinely vilified, perceived as bringing ill omens and bad luck, and the real cause of their husbands’ deaths.  Traditional practices may be not merely degrading, but life-threatening.


In the context of legal rights, whether enshrined in International Law, or in the Constitution and Domestic Law, widows are often beyond the reach of modern statutes, and may, for various reasons, be unable to access the modern justice system in their countries. In countries where parallel systems of law co-exist (religious, customary, modern), widows’ lives are mainly determined by interpretations, made by leaders of their local communities, of the former two systems. Thus, widows are often barred from inheriting from their dead husband’s estate; may be evicted from the family home; lose custody of their children to the male relatives of their deceased spouse. They may be unable to own or dispose of land, and be subject to horrific, degrading and life-threatening traditional practices.


In spite of the many ratifications to the CEDAW, the consensus of the Beijing Platform for Action, the widespread support for the Elimination of Violence to Women, and the endorsement by governments of the SCR 1325, widows continue to be excluded from the progress made in raising the status of millions of the World’s Women.


Not only are they denied their basic human rights, civil, political, social and economic, but their crucial roles in society, in development, in peace building, as sole supporters of their families has not been recognised. There is a dearth of statistical data and little situational analysis of their day-to-day struggles to survive.


But change is on the way as widows begin to organise themselves to be agents of CHANGE, lobby for law reforms, are represented in decision-making, and begin to be counted and heard.


The Charter for WIDOWS’ RIGHTS demands the elimination of all discrimination against widows, both within the family and in community and public life. Non-state actors – such as family members – may not justify the abuse of widows on the grounds of “custom”.

As Nafis Sadik once said, famously, “ no custom or religion can ever justify the oppression of women”. We add, nor of WIDOWS.


The plight of widows of war often worsens in the aftermath of conflict, and SCR 1325 has not assisted them to have their immediate as well as long-term needs addressed. But the aftermath of war, when the numbers of widows and wives of the missing will have increased unprecedentedly, is the opportune moment for widows to organise themselves and ensure that, for example, in the drafting of new constitutions, in law and administrative reforms, widows’ issues are mainstreamed and their rights guaranteed.


This Draft draws on all the Human Rights Conventions and Charters, and particularly on the CEDAW and the Beijing Platform. It also accommodates the consensus arrived at in agreeing the MDGs and other Resolutions and Declarations.


The Articles below describe acts and attitudes which are, in most countries, already proscribed under the general principles of international laws ratified by governments.  Here they are spelt out specifically.


It is hoped it will be a useful lobbying tool for widows’ groups, women’s organisations, and inform the relevant Ministries (Women, Justice, Health etc.) of the principle issues.

The hidden lives of Child Widows

Article published by Margaret Owen OBE

Women for Human Rights, along with Pro Public filed for the rights of Vaikalya (child widows) on 28th December, 2009. Vaikalyas are considered worst than widows and have many codes of conducts.

After 3 years of continuous advocacy and lobby from WHR, on 16th May, 2012, the Supreme Court announced that such traditions are ill practices. The Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare must establish a working committee to see this practice is eliminated.

The Ministry will also collect data on the number of Vaikalyas and their conditions. It will also raise awareness on this issue and see that various programs are established to empower child widows ( Vaikalyas).

This is a great victory against the tradition of Vaikalyas!

Lily Thapa
Women for Human Rights, single women group (WHR)
Organisation in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)
Baluwatar, Kathmandu, Nepal


 On the Run ...
with Margaret Owen, OBE ...

The International Criminal Law Bureau Blog has interviewed Margaret Owen OBE as the first feature in our 'On the Run' interview series.

Margaret has recently been made a Door Tenant of the
9 Bedford Walk Chambers
(specialising in ICC and UN tribunals trying war crimes).

Please click on the link below for the interview:
You can also read the article here:
Article published by Kathryn Hovington on May 9th, 2012


26 January 2011

By Roula Ayoubi BBC News, Baghdad

Years of conflict in Iraq have left the country with more than one million war widows and a shortage of young unmarried men - pressures that may be bringing about the return of polygamy.

Politicians have suggested financial incentives for men who marry widows

Hanan lost eight members of her family in the war, including her husband, and was left to bring up three children alone.

The experience has not broken her. She continues to work as a hairdresser in her noisy and lively home on Haifa Street in Baghdad .

But she still needs a "man-shelter", she says - and this is why she ended up married to a married man.

"When he proposed to me, he said he was divorced," she says.
"But after we got married, he got back together with his first wife, because he has children with her."

He now stays with Hanan once a week. But while she has only reluctantly accepted a situation where she shares a husband with another woman, some in Iraq are actively promoting the idea of polygamy.

It's a practice that became less common in the 20th Century, but politicians put forward a proposal last year to offer married men financial incentives to take on a second wife.

Iraqi widows
•There are estimated to be about one million widows in Iraq
•One in 10 households in Iraq are headed by women, rising to 18% in some districts
•In cities across Iraq , women are harassed for engaging in their professions, wearing clothes deemed inappropriate, or simply stepping out of their homes
Under current Iraqi law, polygamy is illegal unless authorised by a judge - though it is part of the country's Islamic tradition and has been backed in recent years by some religious groups.

In Iraq 's largest province, Anbar, a charity called Angel of Mercy has been helping widows remarry for the last four years. Dozens of marriages have been completed, with the widows often marrying their husband's relatives.

Women's leaders are divided on the subject.

Nada Ibrahim, a member of parliament, supports the idea of polygamous marriage in principle - as long as a husband treats his wives "with justice".

However, she also believes that the government should provide more support for widows, to make it easier for them to survive without men.

"Widows are often young and don't have jobs, health insurance or social security. We shouldn't encourage them only to get married," she says.

Hana Edwar of the Amal charity also believes that the government should help widows financially to enable them to decide their own fate. She's firmly opposed to polygamous marriage.
"It's about women's dignity," she says. "Women need to be educated about their rights."
Women in illegal second marriages are often "in an inferior situation where they are unprotected and prone to abuse by men", she adds.
But one of Hanan's reasons for remarrying was that she felt unprotected as a widow.

"I used to feel vulnerable with no support, afraid that anyone could attack me and anyone could harass me," she says.
"In the beginning I used to feel angry - I used to cry”
"A man's protection is like a shelter. And this is what a woman needs from a man."
Unlike some widows, she is capable of supporting her children alone.
Her second husband, Mostafa, a friend of her first husband's, offered her much-needed support after his death in 2005. They married a year ago.
She says she had to accept his reconciliation with his first wife, because she could not come between him and his children.
Another factor influencing her feelings was her own pregnancy with Mostafa's child.
"The little foetus in my womb ended our problems and made us accept things and stop arguing," she says.
"In the beginning I used to feel angry. I used to cry. But I learned how to cope. What do I gain from my situation if I keep feeling angry and sad? I need to accept the reality." 


Any further information, please contact: Margaret Owen, (Director, WPD) email: