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WPD applauds the Committee for highlighting the special needs and circumstances of widows in two recent General Recommendation: the GRs on Older Women and on the Economic Consequences of Marriage, family relations and their dissolution.

While WPD would ultimately hope for a GR on widowhood and the specific issues of discrimination widows’ face worldwide, we are aware that there is currently a backlog of pending draft General Recommendations. Therefore, we kindly request the Committee to consider some of the following actions and initiatives to raise awareness about widows.

First, WPD is grateful to the Committee for its invitations to speak at events on Women in Conflict and Access to Justice. WPD and its partners would be particularly keen to have a half day or full day event focusing on the specific issues relevant to widows and wives of the missing/disappeared from around the world given a huge increase in their numbers since 2010. This would be a unique and landmark opportunity to illustrate the importance of this issue to Governments and to share best practices with the Committee and other organizations.

Secondly, WPD and its partners would be delighted to provide and brief the Committee on country specific information on widows. Whilst countries like Nepal have recently amended their census to collect statistics on widows, this best practice is an anomaly with little reliable information and data on the number of widows in many countries. WPD would therefore request the Committee to ask Governments about the number and situation of widows in order to help fill the gaps in the data.

Thirdly, WPD is extremely concerned about the plight of widows who are often victims of degrading, violent and life threatening customary practices, some of which are listed in the Dossier. When widows do attempt to access the justice system, they face multiple barriers often resulting in provoking further violence and stigmatization. WPD kindly requests the Committee to consider the plights of widows when asking Governments about violence against women and on access to justice.

Finally, our partners in Asia have specifically requested WPD to draw urgent attention to the growing numbers of child widows. The girl child in many countries is forced into early marriage contrary to Article 16(2) and subsequently faces extreme poverty and discrimination upon widowhood. Our partners have asked us to draw your attention to the trafficking and forced prostitution of young widows from Asia into Europe making this a global problem. This issue and many others could be further discussed in a platform which would allow NGOs to dialogue with the Committee.

Margaret Owen O B E
Director WPD

We cut the International Widows' Day cake in Accra, Ghana.

Minister for Gender, Protection and Children Hin. Nana Lithur, Mama Zimbi, (me) Margaret Owen, the Chair Mama Zimbi Foundation, and Anne K
from FOFCOD South Sudan in front of 4,000 widows, where the oldest was 115, the youngest 15!


G8 commitment to tackle impunity for rape in conflict welcomed by WPD!


London 15 April 2013A Declaration* on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict was agreed on Thursday, April 11th, 2013 by the G8 countries. It states that rape and other serious sexual violence amount to war crimes and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions. This constitutes an emphatic reminder that states are required to investigate and prosecute conflict-related sexual violence wherever it occurs.
Widows for Peace through Democracy - [WPD] welcomes this landmark Declaration but calls on states to ensure that, in enacting comprehensive laws to make this Declaration effective, they address the particular vulnerability of widows, wives of the disappeared and their children, sons as well as daughters, to sexual violence in conflict and post conflict environments, whose poverty, low status, and powerlessness makes them targets for such crimes even long after peace accords have been agreed.

In many conflict and revolution afflicted countries widows are denied any rights to inheritance, property, land, and many find themselves in refugee and IDP camps. In these, struggling to survive without any adult male protector, they are continually at risk of sexual violence, forced prostitution, trafficking for sex work. The stigma attached to widowhood in many cultures is multiplied when widows are also victims of rape as happened in Rwanda, and is occurring now in the DRC, in Iraq, Sri Lanka and in Syria, to give just a few examples.


In order to protect and eliminate sexual violence – and all other forms of physical, psychological, economic and social violence to widows, comprehensive legislation should also criminalise all perpetrators of acts that deprive widows of their basic human rights that makes them such vulnerable targets., For example, in the context of harmful and life threatening mourning and burial rites which may condone such practices as forced remarriage of widows (widow inheritance).

Concerns over gaps in Declaration Language
The Declaration only appears to apply to sexual violence that occurs in international armed conflicts, and not to “internal” conflicts where sexual violence is used as a weapon to silence non-violent political opposition, or eradicate the culture of minority and liberation groups. Police, Gendarmerie, and security forces within countries should be made accountable for sexual violence, threats of sexual violence, and sexual torture, and governments must also be responsible for such acts committed in their name.

WPD requests, for example, the G8 to address as an urgent priority, the plight and continued suffering of the many TAMIL widows and wives of the disappeared in Sri Lanka, who have been victims of gang rape by police and security forces of the GOS (Government of Sri Lanka), and who continue to be targeted in this way. Similarly, women who are members of minority, indigenous or liberation movement communities, are victims of sexual violence, particularly when they are confined in detention by police and gendarmerie.

WPD requests the G8 to use all its considerable influence to end sexual violence in conflict whether committed in internal or international armed conflicts, and should not allow any State to plead “sovereignty” as an excuse to avoid responsibility to prevent and eliminate sexual violence within its borders. There must be no safe haven for perpetrators of these acts.

WPD furthermore requests that the G8 works to ensure that those seeking asylum from regimes where they have been victims of sexual violence are accorded every possible assistance, understanding and services, including legal aid to support their claims and not deported back to jurisdictions where they risk suffering further torture, assault, disappearance or death.

G8 Declaration:



United Nations CSW 57 Meeting in New York on March 4th 2013.

With UN WOMEN Kristin Hetler.






The CEDAW concept paper makes no reference to the particular barriers and obstacles blocking widows efforts to obtain their rights through the justice system, whether modern, traditional, religious courts, alternative dispute processes. WPD's oral statement will be read out in Geneva by IWRAW (International Women's Rights Action Watch) at the meeting in February 2013. 

Margaret Owen OBE
Widows for Peace through Democracy (WPD)


Submission to CEDAW General Discussion on “Access to Justice”
From Widows for Peace through Democracy (WPD)
Recommendations with reference to WIDOWS accessing justice.

WPD applauds the Committee for developing a General Recommendation on women’s access to justice. However, it regrets that the Concept Note, while listing several categories of disadvantaged women, omitted any reference to WIDOWS.

It is often assumed that widows are elderly women respected and looked after by their families. However, widows are of all ages, from the girl child, to young mothers to elderly grandmothers, who all face barriers to accessing justice. Due to the lack of recognition of widows as a disadvantaged group, there is little official data on widows and their voices are not heard in the national or international fora. However, widows have been acknowledged as a group under international law most recently by the Protocol on Women’s Rights to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.

Widows face stigma and negative traditional attitudes, for example, widows may be accused, tortured and even killed as witches. Widows also encounter systematic abuse and discrimination even where substantive laws should guarantee equality, depriving them of their rights to inheritance, land and property. This is illustrated in the report submitted to CEDAW under the Optional Protocol by Women’s Legal Aid Centre (WLAC) of Tanzania last October.

While many UN Member States have reformed laws on succession and inheritance, there is abundant evidence that such laws are not implemented. When widows dare attempt to take their cases to courts, there are few successes. Or, even should a widow have her claim upheld, she may be unable to enforce her remedies back in her family or community.

The plight of widows is worsened in conflict especially when they are displaced as IDPs and refugees. In this context, widows are least likely to be adequately rehabilitated and returned to their villages and lands because they cannot prove legal title to their husband’s property.

Furthermore, the wives of those who are ‘missing’ or who have been forcibly disappeared face extreme barriers in accessing information about what happened to their husbands. Without access to this information, widows are unable to rebuild their lives thus violating their right to truth under international law.

Therefore, we ask the Committee to recommend that Governments:

1. Fill the data gap: collect, analyse and use information on the inability of widow’s to effectively access justice.

2. Support and provide legal aid to widows, especially in rural areas, where widows are victims of violence and ‘chasing-off and property grabbing’.

3. Protect, respect and fulfill the rights of widows to access justice in order to obtain information about disappeared and missing persons, including in their capacity as witnesses to other international crimes.

WPD appreciates the opportunity to provide input to the General Discussion and stands ready to assist with further information.

Margaret Owen OBE
Executive Director WPD


Hidden victims of the Iraq war


Article posted in The Guardian, U.K. on 11 December 2012:

ROUNAQ was 14 when her father took her out of school and married her to a man from the same tribe.

By the time she was 17, her husband had left her with a three-year-old daughter, and no education or prospect of supporting herself or her child. As the marriage wasn’t registered because she was under-age, her daughter was left without the necessary paperwork for an education.
Rounaq’s situation, according to Zainab Shakir, the Iraq country director for Women for Women International, typifies the problems women face a year after the war officially ended. With government institutions demolished in the wake of the US invasion of 2003, people have turned to “tribal and religious structures and communities” for help. And continuing sectarian violence and a struggling economy have hit women hardest.
The Iraqi women’s affairs ministry says there are more than one million widows in Iraq — 400,000 in Baghdad alone — while the UN puts the figures even higher. There is some housing, allocated on a lottery basis, for widows, and some get government money, but not everyone can be helped. And, says Shakir, with only one female politician — the minister for women’s affairs — in government, women’s issues “are not on their list of priorities”.
While the US invasion has had the biggest impact, Shakir says the decade-long war and the 12 years of sanctions that led to the US invasion, took their toll on Iraqi women. “Many families stopped sending their children to schools — frightened they would face violence or rape. This was especially true in rural areas and the suburbs of big cities.”
As a result, girls were married off younger in religious ceremonies — below the legal age of 18 — and often by 14 or 15. It’s a far cry from her upbringing in the 1970s and 1980s, says Shakir, when Iraq was known in the Middle East for its excellent education system and the law that all children must complete their primary education.

“Today, 24 per cent of women in Iraq are illiterate and this increases to 50 per cent for those in rural areas between the ages of 15 and 24,” says Shakir.

The violence across the country has been mirrored in homes. “The stress falls on the most vulnerable — in this case the women. According to the UN, one in five Iraqi women have experienced physical or psychological abuse — and some suggest the numbers are even higher.”

— The Guardian, London




STATEMENT submitted by Women for Human Rights, single women group of Nepal in association with SANWED member organizations ; Guild of Service, India, Widows for Peace through Democracy, UK, Small Fishers Federation, Sri Lanka, Tarango, Bangladesh, Bhutanese refugee Center, Nepal, Care Afganisthan and Aurat Foundation, Pakistan for CSW 57 on PREVENTION AND ELIMINATION OF VIOLENCE TO WIDOWS

On the occasion of the 57th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW 57) the Women for Human rights, single women group of Nepal in association with sanwed take this opportunity to express our continued support for the full and effective implementation of the Beijing Declaration and the Platform of Action (BPfA), UNSCR 1325 and 1820.

In light of the priority theme of CSW 57, “Prevention and Elimination of Violence against Women and Girls We, the organizations representing widows, of all ages, in developing, conflict and post-conflict countries, draw attention to widowhood as an urgent and neglected cross-cutting issue, and particularly welcome the opportunity to highlight the often hidden aspects of violence perpetrated against widows and their daughters.
Widows of all ages – child widows, young mothers, elderly women -in developing countries, especially in Africa and South Asia, experience many different forms of violence. In conflict and post-conflict scenarios the violence is exacerbated in more complex environments, leaving scars that last a life time, and affect the whole of society and its future. This issue has been neglected by governments, and the international community.
Widows are likely to suffer, (in silence), extreme and systematic physical, psychological, sexual and economic violence both within their families, and in the outside community. Across regions, religions, cultures, caste and class, widows can be stigmatized as bringing bad luck, as “inauspicious”, or” the evil eye”. The vernacular word for “widow” in many dialects is usually pejorative, synonymous with names for “harlot, witch, prostitute, and sorceress”. Widow-related gender based violence has not been adequately researched, nor is there reliable data or qualitative information on the causes, nature, and consequences of these practices. Furthermore, even where Member States have legislated to criminalize violence against women, laws are poorly enforced, Harmful traditional practices, for example degrading and life-threatening mourning and burial rites that oppress widows within their families rarely get mentioned. Due to illiteracy, location, economic, social and cultural obstacles, widows often have little or no access to the justice systems. ,. In rural areas widows’ lives are determined not by modern laws, but by patriarchal discriminatory interpretations of religion, custom and tradition.
Much of the violence against widows occurs within the family. Deprived of rights to inheritance of property and land, they can be ”inherited” as a chattel, by a forced marriage to a dead husband’s relative; powerless, widows are often exploited as domestic, agricultural and sexual slaves. Mourning and Burial rites forced on widows may include “ritual cleansing by sex” (a practice believed to exorcise the evil spirits); extreme restrictions on mobility, diet, dress and freedom of association which causes grave psychological trauma that can lead to depression and suicide. Where evicted from the homestead impoverished landless widows often find their only means of survival is through begging or prostitution, putting them at risk of further violence, stigma and HIV and AIDS. In the event that widows are courageous enough to seek justice for their rights through the courts, they often provoke further physical and psychological violence because they dared to challenge deep-seated societal and patriarchal norms. Many poor rural widows migrate to urban centres in the hope of finding employment to feed themselves and their children, where again their poverty and powerlessness leaves them vulnerable to the worst forms of exploitation, including trafficking.
The daughters of poor widows are also at risk of the violence of a forced child marriage. A common action of poor widows is to remove their daughters from school and to marry them, or sell them to older men. In the context of the HIV and AIDS pandemic, such men are often widowers, and carriers of the HIV virus. Child marriage is itself a violence, but many of these little girls them become child widows, also subject to the stigma and violence that their mothers faced.
Armed conflict and post conflict has resulted in a huge increase in the numbers of widows, since a common feature of present day conflicts is the separation and killing of men and boys, and the sexual violence including rape of women and girls as a weapon of war. In some conflicts widows have had to witness the murder of their husbands before or after they have been raped. Widows face threats to their lives, violence and often death should they be brave enough to testify against the rapists at international or national tribunals.
Displacement as a consequence of war affects widows and their dependents disproportionately since without any adult male protector they are greatly at risk whether in IDP or refugee camps, or in flight seeking safety across frontiers. For example in camps they lack adequate security, and are in danger when they leave the site in search of water and firewood. Within the camps, a culture of “food for sex” often operates with particular impact on widows and their daughters.
Homelessness and displacement in the context of post-conflict transitional period leaves millions of uncounted widows, without any sources of support.. For example, in Afghanistan, widows in Kabul, unable to feed their children, are known to be selling their daughters for as little as $10, but many widows have committed suicide through self-immolation. Widows fleeing the violence of a forced remarriage to a brother-in-law are kept in prison ostensibly for their own protection, even though they have committed no crime. In Iraq, poor widows and their daughters are frequently subject to rape, abductions, kidnap, and forced prostitution. In the DRC widows and their daughters are subject to multiple rape and sexual mutilation. In Nepal, widows are subjected to face severe violence in the name of culture and religion.
The greatest obstacle to effectively preventing and eliminating violence against widows is the lack of data: numbers, ages, numbers of dependents, needs, roles, coping strategies, support systems, legal status, and access to justice, Also, the conception in the development community that women are an “homogenous” category, denying that there are sub-sects of women, such as widows, who suffer particular forms of discrimination and abuse that demand a specific response.
A conventional methodology to gather data have failed in the context of widowhood, since widows’ isolation and the cultural taboo on any discussions of their personal status requires alternative initiatives to hear their voices. Widows require financial and human resources to support them in establishing their own organizations and networks. Banding together, widows will have a collective voice, be able to access training so they can utilize national and international human rights mechanisms and norms, participate equally in decision-making bodies, such as peace-tables, and committees on law reform and constitutional redrafting. Also, as in Nepal, associations of widows can be supported to work with their governments to fill the gap in data so as to influence policy makers, and be key monitors of implementation of new laws.
We ask for the following recommendations to be taken up by the UN and governments.
1. Commission a United Nations Report on Widowhood in Conflict.
2. Appoint a United Nations Special Representative on Widowhood.
3. Create a fund to enable widows' organizations to mobilize and ensure the voices of widows are heard on their issues related to peace negotiations and legal reforms, including constitutional reform and law committees.
4. Urge State Parties to fund the collection and disaggregation of data based on marital status and family structure, including data to combat marginalization and multiple marginalization.
5. Recommend that the CEDAW consider monitoring the status of widows on the country level and adopting a “General Recommendation" to States Parties on this issue.
6. Organize international meetings in Asia and Africa during 2013 and 2014 on Widowhood and its relation to human rights, poverty, and justice.
7. Acknowledge and urge States Parties to recognize that the goals of the Millennium Development Goals and the Beijing Platform for Action cannot be reached if widows remain an invisible group within the larger, homogenous group of "women". The vital need is to Mainstream Widowhood issues into UN action to achieve the MDGs and the objectives of the Beijing Platform for Action, United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, and its subsequent resolutions, including all international and regional policy meetings.
8. Include "widows" as a specific category in National Action Plans for implementing SCR 1325 and for Development.






Important breakthrough in the fight for Widow's & Orphan's inheritance!

WPD was the intermediary for using the Slavery Fund for widows of the southern Sudan - and we have just received this message from Anne Kyomugisha, Executive Director, Forum for Community Change and Development (FOFCOD):

Dear All,
Hopefully you are doing well.Today we had a hand over ceremony of providing start up equipment to widows who are victims of widow inheritance and their orphans in Yei River County. The day was a successful one. Kindly see one of the published articles:

We thank the Slavery Fund and Widows For Peace through Democracy (WPD)  that you have given us in supporting these young widows. Looking for more collaborations in the future.
With love

Anne Kyomugisha, Executive Director
Forum for Community Change and Development(FOFCOD)
Off Airport Rd, 500m walk From American Residence,
Kololo Tong ping, Central Equatorial State, Juba, South Sudan
Tel:+211955875181.    Website:






Lily Thapa, director of WHR-SWG Widows NGO Nepal, with WPD Director Margaret Owen, in Bangkok
at August Conference on Economic Empowerment of Widows - hosted by ACCU Asian Association of Credit Unions.



SANWED South Asian Consultative Workshop on Mainstreaming Rights of Widows and Single Women in Public Policy.
May 23, 2012. Islamabad Hotel, Islamabad

The Aurat Foundation, in collaboration with South Asian Network for Widows’ Empowerment in Development (SANWED), hosted a two-day South Asian consultative workshop in Islamabad, Pakistan, on 23-24 May 2012.

Dr. Masuma Hasan, presenting a memento to Federal Minister and Chairperson BISP, Madam Farzana Raja







Identifying Rural Widow’s roles and needs


56 UN Commission on the Status of Women

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

Boss Room, Church Centre 2.30 - 4.00 pm


Inheritance and Land Rights - Poverty and Food Security - Forced Eviction and Migration - Access to Justice and Services - Rural Widows in Conflict Zones 

Join us to:

Identify key issues

Agree recommendations

Take action for the UN, donors, Governments, NGOs

Widowhood remains the most neglected of all human rights and gender issues, and rural widows are among the poorest of the poor. Many widows are "chased-off" from their villages, are denied land to grow food, are at risk of exploitation and abuse, or forced to seek high-risk survival strategies in urban areas. They and their children face homelessness, starvation and abuse. In conflict afflicted regions, many are IDPs and Refugees, who need land for resettlement, and rehabilitation, and security. Join us to make a positive change. 


Sponsored by Widows for peace through Democracy (WPD)

Women for Human Rights, single women group (Nepal),

Guild of Service (India),

Widows' Development Organization (Nigeria)

Supported by Widows Rights International




An excerpt from the email Shelagh Daley sent to Margaret Owen, director WPD


From: Shelagh Daley
Date: Wed, Jan 25, 2012 at 2:03 PM
Subject: Follow up: Seminar on Critically Examining UNSCR 1325 on Women, Peace and Security

On behalf of Gender Action for Peace and Security and our panelists, I would like to thank you for attending our seminar ‘Critically Examining UNSCR 1325 on Women, Peace and Security’ on 23rd January. Your questions were excellent and helped to generate a very interesting discussion.

A video of the event will be available on our website soon. My live tweets from the event can be viewed on our twitter page:!/Nowomennopeace or by searching the hash tag #UNSCR1325.

All the best,

Shelagh Daley
Campaigns and Outreach Officer
Gender Action for Peace and Security (GAPS - UK)
Development House | 56-64 Leonard Street | London | EC2A 4LT
No women, no peace. campaign | |







ByMargaret Owen, Director WPD

CONFLICTS create millions of widows and wives of the "disappeared", although there is barely any reliable data. Yet widowhood remains one of the most neglected of all gender and human rights issues. WIDOWS are mostly uncounted and unheard. In most conflict afflicted countries today even in peacetime widowhood is a form of social death; but during wars and their aftermath the discrimination, stigma, and abuse, including sexual exploitation experienced by widows of all ages is exacerbated and extreme, as is their poverty.
It is essential that the CEDAW GENERAL RECOMMENDATION contains a specific reference to this issue so that governments address the needs of widows, especially in respect of rights to inheritance, land and property ownership, protection from violence, and ensure that they are counted, heard, have access to justice, and are supported in their crucial roles as sole supporters of children and other dependents, and as key players in peace-building, reconstruction and future development.

The extreme poverty and marginalisation of millions of widows of all ages often makes them and their daughters vulnerable to forced prostitution, to traffickers, in their struggle for survival. Many are also rape victims and thus infected with HIV and AIDS. Displaced widows and their dependents fill refugee and IDP camps and are the last to be resettled and rehabilitated. Without rights, in desperation, more widows contemplate and commit suicide. As survivors and witnesses of crimes against humanity, widows also need special protection as testifiers to these in courts and tribunals.

ON behalf of the unheard uncounted millions of widows and their children of AFGHANISTAN, BOSNIA, BURUNDI, CONGO, IRAQ,NEPAL, SIERRA LEONE, LIBERIA, SOMALIA,SRI LANKA, SUDAN....but the list is endless .... we ask that CEDAW request all member states to address this important issue which if ignored, will frustrate all other strategies to bring gender equality, peace, reduce poverty, and prevent future conflicts. The poverty and discrimination suffered by widows in conflict and post conflict must be relieved, so that they and their children can positively contribute to their countries' reconstruction and development.

Thank you


WIDOWS FOR PEACE THROUGH DEMOCRACY (WPD) strongly welcomes the development of a General Recommendation to Member States on addressing the specific needs of women in conflict and post-conflict environments.

The lack of data on widows, numbers, ages, numbers of dependents, needs, roles, coping strategies, support systems, legal status, access to justice, experience of widow-violence, discrimination and abuse and the failure of governments and other agencies to address widowhood issues severely frustrates other strategies and policies to resolve conflict, prevent future conflicts, promote equality and justice, and inhibits development, the Rule of Law, Good Government, and Peace.

Failure to identify the numbers, ages, needs, roles, life styles of widows is itself a form of discrimination under the CEDAW.

• Use Mapping and Profiling projects to identify numbers of widows, and gather information on their life-styles, needs, roles, and impact of widowhood on their children, particularly their girl children.
• Ensure that the voices of widows and wives of the missing are heard in all relevant decision-making committees, including peace-tables, constitution redrafting, and law reform commissions
• Support widows to form their own associations so as to be able to have a collective voice to articulate their needs
• Take all available actions to eliminate discrimination against widows; criminalize acts that deprive widows’ of their fundamental rights; modify public attitudes to widows so that negative stereotyping ceases
• Protect widows from forced remarriage, and from degrading and harmful traditional practices, including degrading and life-threatening mourning and burial rites, and punish those who coerce widows to participate in these practices
• Ensure that refugee and IDP widows are resettled and rehabilitated through provision of land, housing, and appropriate training and extension services so they can support their dependents.
• Provide appropriate health, education, training services for widows and their children. Including counseling services for widows who suffer post traumatic stress from witnessing crimes against humanity, war crimes, and are victims of rape.
• Adopt, or adapt the WPD MODEL WIDOWS CHARTER into the Domestic Laws.



The GAPS group with Michelle Bachelet in London, May 2011.


Commission on the Status of Women
Fifty-fifth session
22 February -4 March 2011
Item 3 (a) (i) of the provisional agenda*

Follow-up to the Fourth World Conference on Women and to the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly,
entitled “Women 2000: gender equality, development and peace for the twenty-first century”: implementation of strategic objectives and action in critical areas of concern and further actions and initiatives: access and participation of women and girls to education, training, science and technology, including for the promotion of women’s equal access to full employment and decent work.

Al-Khoei Foundation (Iraq)
Al-Hakim Foundation (Iraq)
HelpAge International (UK)
National Alliance of Women's Organizations (UK)


Statement submitted by Guild of Service, India, a non-governmental organization in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council

The Secretary-General has received the following statement, which is being circulated in accordance with paragraphs 36 and 37 of Economic and Social Council resolution 1996/31.

In our submission to the UN Commission on the Status of Women at its 55th session, the Guild of Service, India raises critical trends and patterns of concern regarding equal access and participation of widows and their daughters in education and employment for discussion and inclusion in agreed conclusions:
• Over three quarters of a billion widows and their children live in extreme poverty (one ninth (11%) of world population), leading widows to desperate "choices" to feed children, particularly pulling them, particularly daughters, out of school into arranged early marriages and other exploitative situations (begging, child labor, even trafficking).
• Huge and unprecedented recent increases in the numbers of widows are due to increased armed conflicts, ethnic cleansing, HIV/AIDS, "natural" disasters and other negative impacts of climate change, and the persistence of harmful traditional practices, such as forced marriage, that lead to increased risk of HIV infection and death of husbands, wife/widow infection and mother-to-child transmission.
• More widows increases families living in extreme poverty because discriminatory customs and laws, including lack of inheritance, land and property rights, and expulsion from the marital home, propel many widows into poverty.
• Widows, primarily in rural sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia, face harmful traditional practices targeting widows, such as mourning rituals and extreme social isolation which restrict movement and personal autonomy, making economic activity difficult.
• Countries legislating against discrimination against widows tend not to enforce such laws.


* E/CN.6/2011/1
• Social exclusion of widows has severe economic consequences, additional to that of other women:
o While all women are unable to own land or property in certain countries, exacerbating the economics of women in households without adult men, widows are additionally feared as "unlucky," "witches", or causing their husband's death, and ostracized, making it harder for them to find ways to feed their families.
o While all women are likely to be under employed and less well paid in comparison to men, exacerbating the economics of all women in households without adult men, widows are additionally constrained from pursuing education, job training or employment by mourning rites requiring widows remain inside for up to one year or more and marking widows if they do go outside (shaved heads, all white clothing).
o Expulsion of widows and their children from a marital home leads many to homelessness, migration, refugee or displacement camps and increased physical insecurity, since widows are often unwelcome in natal homes
o Widows in certain rural areas are forced to marry a male relative of their deceased husband ("widow inheritance" or "levirate marriage").
o Social isolation and avoidance of widows often leads widows to miss training, employment, healthcare, education and other information and opportunities.
o Widows and their children face increased gender based violence in conflict-affected areas as women without the protection of men and may also experience harrowing ethnic revenge scenarios such as her watching his murder, his watching her rape, or both.
• Removal of daughters from school for early marriage generates a cycle as daughters become uneducated widows replicating mothers' "choices" for their children.
Education being a primary mechanism for escaping poverty, it is essential that governments address the social and economic conditions of Widowhood, using all measures to afford widows their rights to education, training and employment, and protect the rights of widows' children to attend school. In particular, we seek:
• Implement CSW54 agreements to disaggregate data by marital status as well as gender and age, not only in HIV/AIDS, but also to monitor progress of widows and their children: research Widowhood as a root cause of girls out-of-school and girl dropouts, and include data on child brides, child mothers, child heads of household, and child widows, on widowed families living within extended families, and on marital status of parents of children at risk (both girls and boys) to identify the disproportionate number who are children of widows.
• Combat legal, customary and traditional discrimination against training and employing widows, including inheritance laws and mourning rituals.
• Implement CSW48 to challenge stigmatization and discriminatory attitudes, and include Widowhood, developing campaigns for new standards of behavior and attitudes towards marriage, the value of education for girls, women's right to work, women's right to inherit and own land, widows' right to choose how to mourn, and other human rights.
• Fund widows' groups to ensure widows and their children are informed of education and employment programming, including those who cannot read.
• Design education and training for the hard-to-reach, including widows and their children, particularly those in hiding, homeless, in transit, refugee, internally displaced or humanitarian relief camps, living with disabilities, or otherwise too distant. Plan contingencies for power outages, particularly in rural areas, if strategies involve mobile phones or computers.
• Design retention supports for widows and their children, including childcare at school for children of student mothers and for students after school.
• Ensure programming for out-of-school youth includes widows and the children of widows.
• Provide rights education and life skills training to parents, including widows, as well as students, and include the rights of widows and other women living without adult men in curricular material.

Progress on CSW's 51st session, "The elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against the girl child," is incomplete until girl widows and the daughters of widows are included in policies, programs, outreach, monitoring and data collection. To redress this:
• Redefine campaigns combating child marriage to include child brides becoming child widows and widow inheritance, since inherited widows may still be children.
• Implement Paragraph 13 of the CSW51 Report calling Governments to include widows and their children:
o Ensure harmful laws include inheritance, land and property laws and other discrimination against widows, including social exclusion (13f)
o Develop countrywide birth, death, and marriage registries (13j). Since marriage is the greatest source of HIV infection risk for women, use such registries to target married men, and their wives, former wives (widows, divorced, abandoned) and other sexual partners, requiring both husband and wife, or father and mother, to attend sessions during registration covering HIV/AIDS transmission and prevention, reproductive health, family planning, nutrition, and the importance and availability of birth attendants.
o Ensure Country Reports to the UN include marital status and other data on households without adult men (13j).
• Explicitly include Widowhood, daughters of widows, girl widows, marital status and households without adult men in
o Every subsection of paragraph 14
o Paragraph 15: encouraging treaty bodies to invite States to address the situation of girls
o the financial commitments of paragraphs 16 and 17
• Include Widowhood as a key paragraph 18 component of the issues facing girls.
More generally, we seek support for:
• UN Special Report on Widowhood in Conflict collaborating with widows' organizations modeled on the Machel Report on Children in Conflict
• UN Special Rapporteur on Widowhood
• UN, Governments' and Donors' funding of widows' groups to represent widows collectively in decision-making, peace negotiations, and on committees for constitutional and law reform; forming widows' groups where none exist.
• Naming the knowledge gap on widows as a major obstacle to gender equality, human rights and the Millennium Development Goals.
• Including marital status in UN 5-year Questionnaires to develop Member Country profile statistics, disaggregating gender data by marginalized population and marginalized population data by gender.
• Funding alternate data collection methods (e.g., National Mapping and Profiling Projects), since conventional census methods inadequately capture data on widows.
• CEDAW "General Recommendation" urging State Parties to address Widowhood issues in their own countries and Questionnaires on Widowhood.
• "Widows" as a UNSCR 1325 National Action Plan implementation category.
• UN conferences in Africa and Asia in 2011-2013, on Widowhood, Human Rights, Poverty and Justice, based on UN and international development agency (Commonwealth Secretariat, World Bank) findings on Widowhood.
• Mainstreaming Widowhood issues into all international and regional policy meetings, including all conferences on Human Rights, HIV/AIDS, Trafficking, Peace and Security, Violence Against Women, Poverty Eradication, and Least Developed Countries to effectively implement UN system goals.

We wish to acknowledge our sister organization Widows for Peace through Democracy and its Founder Director Margaret Owen for her support in the writing of this submission.


Charlotte handing over the petition to Lynne Featherstone MP.
Many thanks to Charlotte for standing in for me, and many thanks to Sharon for all her preparation, which benefited both GADN and GAPS members!

Laura Hotchkiss, GAPS Director

Activists ask Government Champion to make 1325 her New Year’s Resolution

Activists from the Gender Action for Peace and Security (GAPS) coalition yesterday presented Government Champion for tackling International Violence Against Women Lynne Featherstone MP, with a petition asking her to prioritise women affected by conflict.

The petition is part of the No women No Peace Campaign focussing on United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 which recognises the devastating impact of conflict on women and the importance of women’s involvement in peacebuilding. Over 1,200 people signed the petition which asks Ms Featherstone to make UN Resolution 1325 her New Year’s Resolution.

The No Women No Peace campaign presses for the full implementation of UN Resolution 1325 and makes the case that in order to build stable societies women must be included in all aspects of peacebuilding.

The signatures were presented by Charlotte Onslow, Chair of GAPS, at a meeting between Lynne Featherstone and representatives from civil society.

Laura Hotchkiss, GAPS Director said:

Security Council Resolution 1325 was unprecedented when passed in 2000. Progress has stalled. For women in conflict to feel its effect government must now reassert its importance. Over 1,200 people have signed this petition to ask Lynne Featherstone MP to put women, peace and security at the centre of her work as the Government’s Champion for tackling International Violence Against Women.

Notes to editor:

1) For interviews with No Women No Peace members contact Natalie Sharples on 020 7922 7776,,

2) No Women No Peace is a campaign by Gender Action for Peace and Security (GAPS UK) a network of 14 human rights and development organisations.

3) 10 years on from UN Resolution 1325 the international community is still failing to protect women. Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) continues to be used as a strategic weapon of war. SGBV which Includes rape, forced impregnation, forced abortion, trafficking, sexual slavery, and the spread of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS – is one of the defining characteristics of contemporary armed conflict.

4) October 2010 marked the 10-year anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325. Resolution 1325 recognises the devastating impact of conflict on women and states that women must be involved in building peace from the earliest stages. No Women No Peace focuses on women’s participation as a necessary precursor to ensuring the issues women face in conflict are addressed.

Natalie Sharples - Campaigns and Outreach Officer
No women, no peace. campaign
Gender Action for Peace and Security
+44 (0) 207 922 7776

Sign our petition. Tell the Government to make Resolution 1325 its New Year's Resolution!


Proposers:    ICW-CIF General Well-Being and Social Issues S/Cs
Seconder:     NCW GB in association with Affiliate - Widows for Peace through Democracy

Recognizing the importance of addressing the needs and acknowledging the crucial roles of widows, of all ages, in the context of family support, poverty reduction, discrimination, gender-based violence, peace-building and the HIV/AIDS pandemic;

Aware of the unprecedented increase in the numbers of widows in the last decades due to armed conflict, ethnic cleansing, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, child marriage to older partners, and many other factors;

Noting the absence of reliable statistics on this issue and its general neglect by governments and the international community;

Aware that lack of rights to inheritance, land and property, social stigma and the prevalence of harmful traditional practices have disastrous consequences not only for the widows but for their children, especially their daughters, depriving them of shelter, food and education, and putting them at risk of economic and sexual exploitation;

Noting that in spite of international and national legislation to eliminate discrimination against women, widows’ lives, being mostly determined by discriminatory interpretations of custom or religion, have not benefited from these laws;

Further noting that widowhood is a root cause of poverty and that poverty breeds a cycle of conflict;

Conscious that widowhood remains the most neglected of all gender and human rights issues:

Resolution ratified by the ICW-CIF GENERAL ASSEMBLY, 14-19 October 2009, Johannesburg, South Africa (in association with National Council of Women of Great Britain and Widows for Peace through Democracy).

Status - adopted unanimously.

From: whr
Date: Tue, Sep 7, 2010 at 10:59 AM
Subject: Regarding WPD

Dear All,

We would like to emphasize that WPD is necessary to raise the voices of widows from all around the world.

Founder President,
Women for Human Rights, single women group

“Widows’ Voices – Empowered”


Calls upon all member National Councils:

a. to urge their respective Governments to ensure that widows have full equality within society, by removing all forms of discrimination against widows and their families, including harmful traditional practices; and by providing them with full rights to ownership of land and inheritance rights, and with equal rights to social support and financial benefits;

b. to support the development of widows’ associations in order that their voices may be heard in formulation of policy in those areas;

c. with the assistance of the ICW Permanent Representatives to the United Nations, to urge their governments to support the call for the Secretary-General of the United Nations to commission a Special Report on the Situation of Widows in Conflict and Post-Conflict Scenarios, and for the United Nations to establish mechanisms to fill the gap in data and ensure that the voices of widows are heard in peace-building and reconstruction deliberations, in the spirit of UN SCR 1325 also SCR 1820 and the Millennium Development Goals.

October 2009

Why WIDOWHOOD issues are important: The poverty and low status of widows is a cross-cutting theme, both in the CEDAW and in the BPFA. Widows’ low status affects the whole of society and its future. This discrimination and marginalisation impacts negatively on their children who are often made homeless and deprived of education, making them vulnerable to economic and sexual exploitation, and entrapment in prostitution, crime and even terrorism. In particular, in conflict and post-conflict scenarios, widows, many struggling to survive as IDPs and Refugees, need special support so they can participate fully in peace-building and reconstruction.


Past articles:

For the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action  - ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL

Contribution from the NGO caucus on minority women in the ECE region
Item 5 – Gender-sensitive economic policies in the context of the economic crisis

Rapporteur Hélène Sackstein – International Alliance of Women

By minority women our caucus means all those who are different in some way from the majority of women in their country because of their ethnicity, their origin, their religion, their extreme poverty, their sexual orientation and gender identity, their marital status, their life style and women with disabilities. Unfortunately, the list is far from exhaustive. These women are the target of multiple discriminations; yet, they can be key in facilitating the integration of minority communities and it would prove to be most cost-effective to invest in them.

We have noted that there has been very limited consideration in this 15th year review of the Beijing Platform for Action and that women tend to be dealt with as a monolithic mass with essentially similar needs and demands with just passing mention of minority women, as if one size fit all. The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action provide a road map to deal with some of the negative impacts of economic policies on minorities, even during economic crises.

The Beijing Declaration stresses a commitment to social justice and urges governments to listen to voices of all women, everywhere with particular attention to their diversity, their roles and circumstances.

The Global framework of the Platform for Action, in a specially relevant section, notes that economic programmes are not designed to minimize their negative effects on vulnerable and disadvantaged groups of women, nor have they been designed to assure positive effect on them by preventing their further marginalization in economic and social activities while the Strategic objectives emphasize that the Platform for Action is intended to improve the situation of all women without exception while paying special attention to groups that are most disadvantaged.

In this context, we urge governments to, at the very least:
• Develop and implement preliminary assessments of impact on minority populations, particularly on women and girls, for any new economic programmes, before putting them place.
• Review existing European and national legislation and socio-economic policies in the light of their impact on the reduction of gender inequalities, by addressing all forms of discrimination and social exclusion.
• Ensure the participation of minority women in the development of more effective economic and social policies and programmes, giving real weight to their inputs.
• Develop campaigns against violence, including homophobia, in business and industry as it impacts negatively on the physical and mental health of employees and reduces their productivity.
• Ensure equality of social protection for lesbian families, including in cases of immigration linked to employment, especially for binational couples.
• In view of the increased numbers of widows of all ages, ensure that policies address not just their needs but also acknowledge and support their positive roles in society.
• Ensure adequate funding for minority women organizations to enhance their collective voice and participation at all levels of decision-making regarding their status and needs.
• Pay special attention to the situation of minority women during the 2010 European year to combat poverty and social exclusion.

Finally, we stress that, even in a financial crisis, women’s rights are still human rights as contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and must be effectively mainstreamed throughout all socio-economic policies and programmes of the region.

We look forward to having our recommendations reflected in the Chairperson’s conclusions.


Margaret Owen, Director of WPD's additional response below:

WIDOWS are never mentioned in the BPFA, nor in its OUTCOME document. The discrimination experienced by widows, especially in the context of HIV/AIDS, the lack of access to appropriate and affordable health care, the increased incidence of violence to widows, GBV perpetrated by both family members, as non-state actors, and by communities, due to widows' poverty and marginalisation are issues that we feel WHO must now urgently address.


CSW and the Brief History of One Word......

From Margaret Owen's blog on Open Democracy, see link:

After eight days  and evenings of effort, meetings, draftings, lobbying, talking, to all and sundry (Senior UN officials, government, NGOs) at the 53rd Session of the CSW and a fortune spent on getting to New York and paying for our incredibly overpriced hotel beds ( as the £ dived)  in order to get WIDOWS and WIDOWHOOD at least referenced in the Agreed Conclusions on the priority theme " Equal Sharing of Responsibilities between women and men, including care-giving in the context of HIV/AIDS", today I am gob smacked by our defeat. 

The "widow" word is barely there.  How incomprehensible, scandalous and stupid.

It's well known by now that across the developing world in general and in conflict affected countries in particular, widows are systematically targeted for rape and worse,deliberately or recklessly infected with the HIV virus, and, as widows, mostly evicted from their homes, deprived of inheritance, land and property. They are often the sole carers of children, other orphans, sick, wounded, elderly and traumatised.  Key providers in their communities. Yet their poverty and their crucial roles go unaddressed, either by the UN, the donors, or governments.

Below is our modest proposed addition to the Agreed Conclusions, totally supported, I am proud to say, by our own UK delegation to the CSW and indeed by the UK mission to the UN who had sent it on to the EU (European Union) group. We had to make an addition, not an amendment, since there was no where in the draft document that gave us an opening for an insertion... 


But we were up against powerful rivals with strong caucuses and global support: children and the "older women". We could not join up with the latter, for we needed to dispel the myth that widows are "old". Many are young and may still be children - child brides for widowers whose wives have died from AIDS. When will the international community get to understand that behind the mass of impoverished hungry homeless children, there are widowed mothers? If their needs and roles are not addressed, there is no hope for reducing child poverty, getting children into education or achieving any of the Millennium Development Goals 

Great if that had gone in. Who could object?  But it was not to be. Alas, we did not have a "caucus" like the girl child, youth and the older women caucuses that bring lots of different lobbying NGO groups together.  Next year if I can ever bear (or afford to return) we will have set one up: Widowsaction.caucus and maybe we will be more powerful and effective as we get more support from NGOs from all the different regions.

Activities and campaigns focusing on children always win hearts and therefore money.  Raising support and funding to get widows' voices heard, and widow's roles acknowledged and supported is, by comparison, a bitter and thankless task. Ministries of Women, in developing countries, most with derisory funding, rarely have the capacity to address the status of widows, let alone count how many their country is host to. (See Iraqi Minister for Women's Resignation speech in February when she spoke of the "army of widows" her department was unable to help)

Never mind that never before in human history has there been such an explosion in the numbers of widows, children, young women, and the elderly - and that these are the poorest, most stigmatised and marginalised women in the world, no one really wants to know. At least our UK delegation listened to us and backed us.  

Today, to my intense disappointment, I opened my laptop and used the "find" key.  One pathetic mention that gives no impression or information on the appalling situation of widows in the context of HIV/AIDS, conflict, poverty, violence and stigma. Widows in this setting, especially if they are older women, are often accused of being "witches"; many are beaten and killed. Yet they are the people solely responsible for raising the next generation, finding shelter, food, water, and safety. Why on earth are the Member States so blind, so hopeless, so unimaginative and uncreative?

This is what we got in the Agreed Conclusions for all our efforts:

"Develop multi sectoral policies and programs and identify, strengthen and take all necessary measures to address the needs of women and girls, including older women and widows, infected with or affected by HIV/AIDS, and those providing unpaid care giving, especially women and girls heading households, for, inter alia, social and legal protection, increased access to financial and economic resources including micro-credit and sustainable economic opportunities, education including opportunities to continue education, as well as access to health services, including affordable antiretroviral treatment, and nutritional support".

Hopeless. Ineffective. Should I be over the moon for having spent £1,500 being in New York to get just this tiny mention? 

And now they've decided that the 54th CSW will be on "implementation of the Beijing PFA"    What? All over again? The 12 action areas which have never, in 14 years, been implemented?   See what I mean. Why come back next year? ...and yet and yet....just the carrot of that tiny word appearing in a document pulls, attracts, seduces...................


Extract from CSW in New York

Conduct Research and identify the Global demographic profile and the special needs and roles of widows of all ages - as Caregivers - in the context of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, in order to, inter alia, protect them from discrimination, violence, harmful traditional practices, and ensure their rights to inheritance, land, and access to both their human rights and equal participation in peace building, reconciliation and reconstruction activities.

Suggestions For Recomendations From The CSW53 Roundtable On Widowhood:

General to all engaged in policy making relating to CEDAW, BPFA, AIDS reduction; MDGs; VAW;1325/1820 and UN SCRs 1325 and 1820, MAINSTREAM WIDOWHOOD issues in all relevant decision-making.

  • Cease assumptions that “women” are an homogenous whole.
  • Governments, UN, Donors to support WIDOWS “banding together” in order to have them represented in policy making
  • Fill the gap in data through supporting Mapping and Profiling involving widows’ NGOs working with M O W and Ministries of Statistics
  • The UN S-G to commission a Special Report on the status of widows in selected countries afflicted by conflict, the AIDS pandemic, poverty and violence
  • The UN S-G to appoint a Special UN Rapporteur on Widowhood.
  • CEDAW to develop a Questionnaire to be sent to member states on status of widows including reliable statistics.
  • UN, (OSAGI, UNFPA, UNDP, UNIFEM) with Commonwealth Secretariat, World Bank and other international development agencies to host an INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE, to take place in Africa, on WIDOWHOOD, HUMAN RIGHTS, POVERTY AND JUSTICE in 2010.

The Lady Fiona Hodgson, [Acting Chair], Baroness Joyce Gould, [Chair of Women's National Commission and Advisory Board of the WPD], Dr. Asha-Rose Migiro [Deputy Secretary General of the UN] Patricia de Mowbray, [Trustee of the WPD], and Margaret Owen, Director of the WPD at the 53rd CSW in New York.

Previous Publications

Widows For Peace Through Democracy (WPD)at 53rd UN CSW
Thursday, March 5th, Church House
WPD/UKWNC Roundtable On Widows As Carers In Context Of HIV/AIDS, Conflict, Violence And Poverty

The priority theme of the 53rd Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women is: The equal sharing of responsibilities between women and men, including caregiving in the context of HIV/AIDS.

WPD regards the selection of this topic as a unique opportunity to increase awareness of the significant and heavy responsibilities that widows carry, both as young widowed mothers and as older and elderly widowed grandmothers, in caring for orphaned children and grandchildren and other dependents (the old, the sick, and the frail) in communities where so many men have died.

Insufficient attention has been paid to the needs and the roles of widows in the context of the AIDS pandemic and caring generally. In many developing countries widowhood itself is a “social and economic death”. Many widows survive in extreme poverty, unable to enjoy their fundamental human rights (as enshrined, in CEDAW and described in the Beijing Platform for Action)

Millions of widows, solely responsible for caring, feeding, housing many dependents, face innumerable obstacles and challenges since they are denied rights, for example, to inherit from their husbands, own land and property, access essential services that would provide them income and the capacity to fulfill their caring obligations. On widowhood they risk being “chased off “from their homes; deprived of their property; face marginalization and stigma as well as abandonment as IDPs and in refugee camps. Coping strategies – often life-threatening - include withdrawing children from school, dependence on exploited child labour, giving away or selling the girl child to forced early marriage (often to HIV infected widowers), and prostitution. Often illiterate, widows are least likely to be able to access training for employment, or income-generating activities. Lack of land means lack of collateral to secure credit or a loan. The poverty of widows impacts upon the whole of society since it is they who have the responsibility for raising the future generation, and caring for the sick.

It is imperative that the HIV/AIDS Caring Issues are seen from the perspective of widowhood, also of conflict and peace building scenarios, and within the prism of implementation of UNSCR 1325 and 1820. Governments and the international community need to ensure that peace accords accommodate the needs of widows for support in their caring roles; that new constitutions and laws expressly address the needs, roles and rights of widows to fully participate in society and in development and reconstruction, are protected from violence, and are relieved of their poverty, fear, and abandonment. Strategies to achieve the Millennium Development Goals must also address the poverty and marginalisation of widows, and acknowledge widows’ crucial roles as carers and providers for the families who may also have been fragmented by armed conflict and ethnic cleansing.

The UK Women’s National Committee supports this meeting and is accrediting WPD, as a UK based Ngo to the CSW.

Other Publication links:

WOMEN 2000 - Widowhood:invisible, women, secluded or excluded

A WORLD OF WIDOWS - By Margaret Owen
Click here to read the Publication.


Widows Charter document


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: