Statement submitted by Global Fund for Widows, Guild of Service, International Federation of Business and Professional Women, Widows for Peace through Democracy, Widows Rights International, and Women for Human Rights, single women group, non-governmental organizations in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council.
WIDOWS SPEAK OUT
Abuse and Discrimination
Resilience and Agency
A dossier of evidence for the attention of CEDAW
Introduction to Dossier
This ground-breaking 2020 report from WIDOWS FOR PEACE THROUGH DEMOCRACY (WPD) provides invaluable but deeply disturbing evidence of worldwide widow discrimination and abuse.
Twenty harrowing personal testimonies from individual widows in thirteen countries, each demonstrating specific types of unacceptable widow discrimination, are presented in the context of WPD’s extensively researched evidence from leading experts and NGOs.
Written as a ‘dossier’ addressed to CEDAW (the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women), this document can be used by all working to protect widows’ rights to demonstrate the urgent need for global action.
Extract from Dossier
Case Example 11 – MYANMAR
“My name is Sofara. The Rakhines and the Burmese Military surrounded our village and set fire and started to shoot people. They have shot my husband and took young girls in groups to the school and raped them. They have further hit the injured people with knife till death. Afterward they have put all the death people in a hole and burnt them with petrol. Young children were taken away from mothers and thrown into the fire and they raped the mothers. They shot my husband. But he was alive, then they beheaded him. I flew away with my three kids. Afterward I survived by collecting woods and fishing. But now I cannot even go for that because of the fight between the Arakan Army and the military. Now I work as cleaner to other people’s house. If I feed my children for a day, I cannot feed them for many days. I cannot buy them clothes in this cold weather. I cannot provide them any education and cannot give them any medical treatment”.
UN Women 10th Anniversary
Widows for Peace through Democracy’s congratulatory message to UN Women, celebrating the occasion of their 10th anniversary.
UN Women is ‘the global champion for gender equality, working to develop and uphold standards and create an environment in which every woman and girl can exercise her human rights and live up to her full potential’.
UN Women replied that they were encouraged by WPD’s ‘strong commitment towards gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, especially in the most neglected of all categories of women – widows of all ages and background’, and looked forward to continued collaboration with us.
Statement for International Widows Day (2020)
Widows, estimated at some 258 million in 2015, now many more due to conflicts and Covid 19 with its related effects on health around the world, have been largely unseen, unsupported, discriminated against and unmeasured in our societies.
Widows for Peace through Democracy (WPD) and its partners across the world is therefore delighted that UN Women is acknowledging International Widows Day 2020 with the words: ‘we recognise widows in all their diversity, and acknowledge the need to integrate them fully and visibly into our work on gender equality so that we break cycles of poverty and disadvantage and ensure that all widows can enjoy their full human rights.’
WPD is also especially pleased to announce the imminent publication of its groundbreaking report on widows worldwide. Our report contains detailed case studies, supplied from over 100 organisations from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Iraq, Kenya, Kosovo, Myanmar, Nepal, Nigeria and Pakistan.
These cases demonstrate the urgent need for action from international, national and regional lawmakers and support WPDs call for an Independent Expert on Widows and a CEDAW General Recommendation on Widows.
Intended as a resource for CEDAW, United Nations agencies, Member States, NGOs, state actors and local organisations concerned to learn about discrimination experienced by widows and how to protect their rights, WPD’s detailed findings present a disturbing picture of the stigma, discrimination and abuse of widows of all ages that occurs across a wide spectrum of cultures, religions, ethnic groups and regions worldwide. Widows suffering deprivation of assets and abuse are forced into extreme poverty and destitution, excluded from social protection and access to essential services and housing. Begging, prostitution, child labour, withdrawal of children from education and early or enforced marriage of any children are consequences of extreme poverty, in turn responsible for further generations of disadvantage and poverty.
WPD calls for immediate action on these issues to progress the SDGs and realise the rights of women. This is more urgent than ever due to an unprecedented increase in widow numbers due to armed conflicts, migration, natural disasters, child marriage to older men and Covid 19. Work on the dossier is ongoing. WPD partners continue their essential work of raising awareness, challenging discrimination and breaking down the walls of silence and invisibility about widowhood. We invite all to support our effort. In the words of WPD President, Margaret Owen OBE, ‘We welcome all examples of widowhood discrimination so that, with the strength of CEDAW to support them, widows everywhere may look forward to a life without fear, enjoying empowerment and equality, justice, and peace.’
Fact sheet: Widowhood in the UNECE region (Geneva 2019)
Across the UNECE region the number of widows is rising dramatically due to wars and conflicts, diseases, migration and displacement, child marriages, natural disasters, climate change and people living longer. The suffering of widows is multi-dimensional; exacerbated and caused by extreme poverty, ageism, violence and abuse, marginalisation and stigmatization, and harmful practices that violate widows human rights, survival and dignity. Widowhood is one of the most neglected of human rights issues.
Nevertheless only two of the 36 UNECE National Reports on Beijing plus 25 review mentioned widows: Belarus and the Ukraine.
International Widows Day 2019
reprinted from the debate transcript at theyworkforyou.com/lords
Baroness Garden of Frognal Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 6:55 pm, 19th June 2019
“My Lords, I join in the thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, for this debate on a topic on which he knows so much and has done so much good work. I know that his particular interest is widows in developing countries, but the inclusion of International Widows Day gives me an opportunity to speak on widows closer to home. I offer my sympathy to the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross. My late husband was an RAF officer for 30 years and I am a vice-president of the War Widows Association of Great Britain; the wonderful noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, is its much-loved president.
Widows in developing countries face challenges which we hope that our widows no longer do, but our widows have not always been treated with compassion and care. I first came face to face with widowhood nearly 50 years ago in RAF Germany with my husband, where a good friend’s husband ploughed into the airfield while practising for a display for the families’ day that weekend. Her children were four and a few months old. The station commander and his wife duly appeared on her doorstep to break the news, closely followed by the information that, without a serving officer in the house, she would need to move out as soon as possible, since she was no longer entitled to live in a married quarter. The problem was that she had nowhere to go; nor did she have any money, as he had not served quite long enough to have earned a pension. Her life was really tough. These days, the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund often steps in to help with housing, but not then. She got help from the fund for her children’s education at an RAF school, and was always touched that it sent presents which she could not afford for birthdays and Christmas.
These days, things have greatly improved in the military. The newly bereaved have an effects officer allocated to cope with the practicalities and the War Widows Association uses its skill as a pressure group to improve the conditions of widows and their dependants in Great Britain. In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, it is currently conducting a survey of widows to gather experiences and stories, which it hopes will help to inform people about the work. Its work encompasses those who have suffered bereavement as a result of World War II and all conflicts since then, including Iraq and Afghanistan. As the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, said, many of them are actually very young. Its campaigns have improved the conditions of war widows and war widowers, including ending the situation where widows lost their meagre pensions if they found happiness with someone else. There are regional organisers who offer friendship and support. They organise social events and telephone calls to those who can no longer get to events, because loneliness can feature large in widows’ lives.
Remembrance is very important. We have our own Cenotaph service on the Saturday before the national Remembrance Day. At one stage, war widows were not allowed to march on the Sunday; these days they are, and young and old can be seen stepping out proudly with the Sunday parade, but we still value the Saturday ceremony too. Hearing their experiences can be really humbling, while making one quite angry at the way in which widows can be left to fend for themselves without support or money. To hear of mothers who struggle to return from overseas and find work while caring for small children, or to hear of their efforts in making ends meet with resourcefulness and courage, all the while coping with grief and the loss of a life partner, really makes you stop and count blessings. As I have discovered—to my cost—there is a great camaraderie of widows, which I trust is true in other countries too.
It has taken us a while to support the widows of men serving our country, but even they can be better off than civilian widows, who often have nowhere to turn. When I worked for the citizens advice bureau, I well remember the distraught people with no idea how to arrange a funeral, sort finances or generally cope with life without a partner. The CAB could offer practical advice and point to counsellors or often churchmen, because religious people can be rather wonderful at times of death.
As we have heard, in developing countries there is often a stigma in being a widow, to add to all the practical and emotional problems of losing a breadwinner and partner. But there can be a stigma here too: old friends tend to avoid those bereaved, lest they cause upset. Quite often on social occasions, people do not particularly relish having an odd one out. In some countries, widows lack legal rights, cannot inherit and experience violence and ostracism, as we have heard powerfully from the noble Lords, Lord Loomba and Lord Parekh, and others. Losing a husband can mean losing the wherewithal for life, love and respect, but we hope not here.
What actions have the Government taken since the debate in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, last year to support and empower widows? Has the violence against women and girls help desk been able to intervene to help widows? As we try to treat our widows with more compassion and support, has the Minister suggestions on how we can reach out to those in other countries whose suffering is more acute than the grief and sorrow which are part of the lot of any widow?”
Founder Margaret Owen named as an ‘Inspirational’ figure at CSW63
Widows for Peace through Democracy (WPD) founder, Margaret Owen, has been described as “inspirational” in bringing the discrimination, harmful traditional practices and stigma that widows suffer to light in the halls of the UN and other INGOs across the globe.
In her piece for Soroptimist International, Pat Black described how:
“Over the years she has raised awareness of the plight of widows in many countries, banging on the doors of the United Nations, often literally, to ensure their stories are told and to require their inclusion and recognition by the United Nations and its member states.”
Read the full article here
Statement for CSW63 on Widowhood (2019)
Statement by Widows for Peace through Democracy (WPD) for CSW63 on the priority theme: Social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.
Dossier on widowhood to CEDAW committee in Geneva (2018)
Widows for Peace through Democracy (WPD) presented to the CEDAW committee in Geneva on 16th July 2018, a dossier on issues of discrimination in the case of widowhood.
Report researched and collated by Margaret Owen and Cleo Newton.
Design by Cleo Newton
© Widows for Peace 2018
Roseline Orwa delivers a video message to the CEDAW panel in the UN headquarters in Geneva
Widows for Peace through Democracy were proud to present a video message from Roseline Orwa, widow activist and founder and CEO of the Rona Foundation during a presentation to the CEDAW committee in the UN headquarters in Geneva in July.
Roseline discussed the current situation of widows alongside delivering a personal message of thanks to founder and director, Margaret Owen OBE.