Widows' Invisibility In The Platform For Action

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The issues relating to widowhood cut across everyone of the 12 critical areas of the Platform and the crosscutting themes of Beijing+5. But there is no acknowledgement of the grave and systematic discrimination, violence, human rights abuse, poverty and marginalisation millions of widows of all ages experience across a wide spectrum of regions, religions and ethnic groups. Nor of the ever increasing numbers of young widows due to the AIDS pandemic and armed conflict.

The language of the Beijing+ 5 documents permits little scope for representing the complex issues of widowhood, especially as they manifest themselves in traditional communities, in the context of HIV/AIDS, under armed conflict and ethnic cleansing, or in countries in transition. Inheritance rights are buried under the Girl Child section, and even there, the plight of child widows and the impact of impoverished widowhood on the girl child is ignored.. The sections on Violence and on Harmful Traditional Practices make no mention of the cross-cultural practice of widow-abuse in both the family and in the community, or the life-threatening and degrading widows’ mourning rites.

The conclusions of the Meeting on Widowhood held on March 8th, convened by Sara Longwe of Femnet and Margaret Owen of Empowering Widows in Development (EWD)

(Presentations included speakers from Zambia, Nigeria, Azerbaijan, India and Bangladesh) resulted in a proposal for textual amendments. These included, inter alia additions of "marital status" to demographic categories and reference to oppressive customary practices. The suggested amendments have gone to all the regional groups and issue caucuses (with varying success). It is not too late to lobby governments on this topic.

Participants also endorsed the suggestion to plan for an International Conference on Widowhood in 2001.

It is hoped that the regions will incorporate at least some of the suggested amendments, but even these will not be adequate to draw the attention needed to this hidden aspect of women’s oppression. Nevertheless some progress has been achieved: UN DAW is preparing its next issue of UN WOMEN 2000 on WIDOWHOOD; UNIFEM is exploring the possibility of organizing a Panel on Widowhood at the GASS. And on March 8th, Ambassador Anwaul Karim Chowdhury, Chairman of the Security Council for March, while not directly mentioning wars widows, has provided more leverage for their empowerment by highlighting the crucial role that women should be playing in preserving the social order; and as peace educators and democracy builders in countries emerging from armed conflict..

Contacts: Margaret Owen (EWD0 Sara Longwe Sara&roy@

Margaretowen@compuserve.com www.oneworld.org/empoweringwidows

Copies of the text amendment proposals are available.


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