Draft statement from Margaret Owen OBE Director Widows for Peace through Democracy
The gap in data, in qualitative as well as quantitative information on, for example , the life-styles, needs, roles, hopes, survival strategies, social support sources, experience of diverse forms of discrimination, abuse and violence, access to justice, participation in decision-making and the benefits of law reforms of the most hard-to-reach sub-sects of women – such as widows – seriously impedes the full enjoyment of their human rights.
Conventional methodologies for gathering data such as the DHS ( Demographic Household Survey) or the national census are, in developing countries, countries destabilised by conflict, Revolution, natural disasters, not geared to obtain information on very marginalised women, such as widows, who, for example, due to harmful traditional practices are often homeless, peripatetic, or even hidden within a dead husband’s brothers homestead as a domestic slave. Rural widows especially, many illiterate, need to be profiled in data collection focused on promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment.
Very few developing countries, especially those afflicted by conflict, where many women are displaced, migrating, in refugee or IDP camps, have any reliable data on the numbers, ages, economic and health status of their widows and the many wives of the missing, or forcibly disappeared
Such information is vital if these women, the widows of all ages, who have crucial roles as sole carers of children, and other dependents, are not to be “left behind” .
Widows are full time unpaid workers in the informal economy yet their precarious status makes them vulnerable to modern day slavery within the family, and in the community.
Yet some innovative alternative methodologies have been developed and successfully utilised to map and profile widows of all ages – child widows, young widowed mothers, elderly grandmothers caring for orphaned grandchildren, all suffering from harmful traditional attitudes as well as practices, that stigmatise them as ” inauspicious” and deprive them of their human rights, in spite of modern laws, to inherit, to own land, have unrestricted mobility, or have their voices heard.
One example of best practice is the Mapping and Profiling of widows undertaken by WHR-SWG (Women for Human Rights Single Womens Group) of Nepal. Now for the first time widows’ numbers and ages appear in the census and much more details about their lives, that has influenced the development of new Policies and Laws to eliminate violence to widows, criminalise harmful and degrading mourning and burial rites, ensure that all widows receive social security support and pensions, and that children of widows can continue their schooling.
Gathering information on the very private world of family relationships in a deeply patriarchal culture depended on the widows themselves who were trained to interview and gather information on intimate aspects of family life, and were supported to form their own organisations at the village level, and in towns, and work in tandem with their local government development councils to process the information in a form that could fill the gap in data at the national level.
This is important information and key to the achievement of the SDGs and the eradication of VAWG, the reduction of poverty, gender equality and women’s empowerment. Widowhood is a root cause of poverty across the generations, a driver of child marriage ,and a prime cause of girls being withdrawn from school. Therefore “marital status” must be included in the disaggregation of statistics, and Governments should consider using alternative methodologies, such as that used so successfully in Nepal To count their widows and hear their voices, so they too can be economically empowered and enabled to enjoy their full human rights.