International Conference on Widowhood: Widows Voices Empowered
Throughout Asia the issues of widows is pervasive. The unprecedented rise in numbers of widows has been caused by the proliferation of armed conflict, AIDS, natural disasters and the persistence of harmful traditional practices in some countries. Statistics barely exist on widowhood except India. In Nepal, after the ten year conflict there are tens of thousands of women who lost their husbands along with their livelihoods and now are living in extreme poverty. In India, there are an estimated 40 million widows, many whom are child widows who have succumbed to a life of discrimination. Self-immolation of widows occurs where women are facing severe cruelty from her community and husband’s family where she feels there is no way out other than her own death. Furthermore, African countries such as Malawi, Nigeria and Zambia are places where widow cleansing still exists, in which the widow is forced to have intercourse with a relative of her late husband before being allowed to remain in her home. Globally, sexual exploitation occurs between widows and their in-laws families, leading to psychological trauma, violence, economic insecurity and displacement from their children. Protection of this often invisible group of women worldwide must be recognized, especially in developing countries as numerous human rights abuses are occurring against widows everyday.
In many countries, the status of women without men is very low, most often extremely marginalized from all aspects of society. Widowhood is a problem throughout the world where violence and severe discrimination are increasing due to conflict, unawareness, and the male dominated societies in which we live. Widows are viewed as the curse to their families, often blamed for their husband’s death where their struggle is invisible and their needs become unmet. All of these factors restrict a woman’s ability to lead a dignified and empowered life.
Women for Human Rights, single women group (WHR) is a non-governmental organization located in Kathmandu actively working for the human rights of widows in Nepal. The issues of widows in the extremely patriarchal society are numerous especially after the decade long conflict and the traditional way of life in much of Nepal. WHR aims for an equitable society where widows are respected and can live in dignity with sufficient economic, political and social rights.
On May 2005, an International conference on Capacity building of widows was organized by Women for Human rights, single women group, a step towards setting up the platform for the voice of widows to be heard at South Asian level. As a result, South Asian Network for Widows Empowerment in Development was established.
The following programs for advocacy of widows had been undertaken in South Asia through the following forums:
A widowhood roundtable organized by the Sigrid Rausing Trust
A South Asian conference on marginalized women organized by UNIFEM
A Colombo Declaration on widows that emerged from the 15th SAARC summit
A widow’s charter brought out by civil society organizations in Nepal.
As the secretariat of SANWED, Women for Human Rights, single women group will host the international conference on widowhood, Widows Voices Empowered on June 24-25 2010 in Kathmandu, Nepal. It is for individuals and organizations who are working on the rights of widows and women’s rights to ultimately strengthen the voices of widows internationally. The mission of the conference will be to convene on the human rights of widows globally.
3. Goals & Objectives
• Establish an international voice on the status of widows in order to effectively strategize on the equality of widows.
To collaborate with international partners so there will be effective advocacy campaigns on the issues of widows.
Examine how policy change has mainstreamed widows’ rights in state level mechanisms to develop...