On 18 November Widows for Peace through Democracy was delighted to host its first ever participatory Zoom webinar event, joined by partners from around the globe. We celebrated the contributions of all those who have supported us in compiling evidence for our ground-breaking 2020 Dossier, WIDOWS SPEAK OUT: Abuse and Discrimination, Resilience and Agency.
Delegates were welcomed to the event, moderated by WPD trustee Sylvia Beales and hosted by WPD Chair George Gelber OBE, with an inspiring call to action from WPD’s award winning President and Founder, Margaret Owen OBE.

Lily Thapa with Margaret Owen and Juanita Primrose in Sri Lanka, 2017
Lily Thapa with Margaret Owen and Juanita Primrose in Sri Lanka, 2017.

WPD was delighted to be joined by our global partners, who included Lily Thapa from Nepal, Roseline Orwa from Kenya, Eleanor Nwadinobi from Nigeria, Ronnie Hasan from Arakan Rohingya National Organisation (ARNO), Ashok Nayak from ActionAid India and Maha Alsakban from Iraq – together with Susan O’Malley, WPD representative at the United Nations; WPD Trustees Pat Holden OBE and Hugo Charlton; Heather Ibrahim Leathers and Jack Onofrio from Global Fund for Widows (GFW); Carolyn Moor and Gina Strasser from Modern Widows Club (MWC), and Caroline Finkel of the Network for Social Change Charitable Foundation, without whose funding the WPD Dossier would not have been possible.

WPD Consultant and Dossier author Alice Lees gave a greatly appreciated ‘walkthrough’ of the PowerPoint slide show on the dossier, designed by herself and Sylvia Beales. This downloadable PowerPoint presentation, easily adaptable for one’s own organisation, introduces the key points, content and findings of the Dossier and can be used by all advocating for widows’ rights to showcase and support the dissemination of its contents, customise it for national and regional use and generally use it to raise awareness of the scope and extent of widow discrimination and abuse. Alice was warmly commended for her work in researching and putting together the dossier, the first of its kind.

Equally exciting for attendees was a demonstration of WPD’s newly formatted website by website designers, Andrew Sampson and Chris Crowstaff of Vale Designs, who are collaborating with Alice Lees and WPD staff to provide ‘state of the art’ new features. Their presentation inspired a range of inspiring comments, appreciation and useful suggestions from our webinar delegates. These included Margaret Owen’s request for a new ‘Best Practice’ section on the website, highlighting ‘local’ efforts worldwide such as Lily Thapa’s pioneering work with widows in Nepal.

Lily, Founder of Nepal’s Women for Human Rights Single Women Group (WHR), praised Margaret as an inspiration and reminded our audience that WPD was the first widows advocacy organisation. She said Nepal is now going through a very challenging time at the policy level, as Nepali widows are humiliated by only being able to get help from the government upon submitting proof they are not remarried. Lily was invited to write a blog for the WPD website. Ashok Nayak, of ActionAid India, advised that the situation of widows in India is dire, with economic rights a particular issue and legislative change needed despite some progress, and suggested the need for having a widows’ champion for India.

Ronnie Hasan, of ARNO, suggested inclusion of a Directory of widows’ organisations extending beyond WPD’s own partners, with additional scope to link with other relevant human rights organisations. Heather Ibrahim Leathers, Founder and President of Global Fund for Widows, suggested collaboration with the Alliance for the Last Woman First, on this as it has a a full directory that can be consulted. Comments were given on how we might take issues of widows forward in the context of the work of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and Heather shared how she had spoken on behalf of widows with many parties invested in widows’ human rights, including Madame Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Roseline Orwa, Rona Foundation

Roseline Orwa, pictured above and Founder and Director of Rona Foundation, thanked Alice Lees for her persistence in encouraging partners to obtain the testimonies that form the vital evidence for our Dossier. She observed that there is a real challenge still to get help for widows at grassroots level, and that ending Harmful Traditional Practices (HTPs) is one of the most important ongoing battles still to be won. Roseline will be contributing ongoing content for the Partners section of our WPD site, and emphasised the importance of local organisations having a pivotal reciprocal relationship with umbrella organisations like WPD – thus creating a real and ‘live’ platform empowering widows to speak out globally.

Eleanor Nwadinobi, a Nigerian medical doctor, women health activist and author of important articles on widowhood referenced in our Dossier, remarked on the progress of WPD- congratulating Margaret Owen on being a pioneer in her respective field and advising that “When we lock our elbows together we become indomitable.” Margaret raised the point that this year is the 20th anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security and that together we can make the changes we want to see. In closing George Gelber was thanked for hosting the webinar and all participants were thanked for making the effort to attend. Among the closing remarks the point was raised that now more than ever it is critical for grassroots organisations to be engaged with international advocacy organisations and platforms more broadly, and WPD can play its part in making that happen.

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