CSW Uncategorized

Widows’ Rights International Statement to the UN CSW62 – 2018

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Statement to the UN Commission on the Status of Women 62

Significant advances have been made in access to education and the creation of
environments in which women thrive, though much remains to be done. Systemic
and structural injustice continues to prevent women’s potential being realised. Until
such inequalities are uprooted from society, humanity will remain unbalanced and
experience conflict and despair. The path towards prosperity being paved by global
governance has many obstacles but there is hope. One group remains absent from
these developments and yet is a vital component of hope for communities: widows
and female-headed households.

Despite unreliable statistics, it is estimated that there are at least 285 million widows
of all ages, with over 115 million experiencing life as the poorest and most
marginalised of women. The neglect of this issue by decision makers at all levels
must end, if these millions and their children are to play their rightful part in the
development of a prosperous and peaceful world. A flourishing world civilization has
to draw on the participation of all its people so their skills and talents can be
engaged in the greater good. In communities where widows have been supported,
their positive influence on the whole community is evident.

The face of a widow can be that of a child or a grandmother and all ages in between.
Habits and perspectives that underpin an individual’s whole life are formed in
childhood therefore access to a quality education helps them develop their
intellectual and moral capabilities. The period of youth is one of immense
significance: a time of preparation and action in which the young can develop an
orientation to service and a sense of social responsibility they will carry with them
forever. Formal education enables young people prepare for their contribution to
the life of their community, including the economy. If rising generations are to
contribute to a flourishing society rather than merely to labour in an ailing system,
such abilities must be cultivated. Throughout these key stages of life, the potential of
each phase is denied to many of those who experience life in a widowhood family.
The family is a crucial social environment within which formative education takes
place. The tendencies to be unjust or act with kindness, to be dishonest or
trustworthy, are usually developed at home. Women are the first educators of the
next generation so their education needs to be given priority. The opportunities for
personal growth that enable widows and their children to be fully engaged in the life
of society are restricted or absent due to widowhood. Their experience of “family”
is limited. Indeed, the abuse they endure through stigma and discrimination can
often teach them a despairing vision of life. This has to change.

The poorest widows are those living in rural areas, who survive the results of
climate change and natural disasters, without social support or that of family.
Unaddressed, widowhood continues to be a root cause of poverty across
generations, causing widows to withdraw their children from school, resort to
begging, prostitution, child labour and child marriage. Widows, especially those living
in rural locations where customary and religious law supercede secular law, are
subjected to harmful stigmatisation rites, including life-threatening mourning and
burial rights, forced marriage to her husband’s next of kin, restrictions on mobility,
diet, dress, and freedom of association.

Many landless rural widows experiencing such abuse, deprived of rights, without
social security or food security, migrate with their children to urban areas to seek
work. These rural widows are then at risk of economic and sexual exploitation by
traffickers and are at risk of becoming modern-day slaves.

In the context of armed conflicts and civil war, many women find themselves as
wives of the “disappeared” or “missing” and are unable to rebuild their lives due to
their uncertain legal status. Where widows are refugees, migrants, or internally or
internationally displaced, their own nationality can be unrecognized and their ability
to transfer nationality to their children revoked. Without an identity, their ability to
access their rights under state or host country law is crucially impaired. In the
context of Agenda 2030, where no one should be left behind, widowhood is a clear
indicator to being left behind in all areas of life. The Sustainable Development Goals
can only be achieved if widows’ rights are acknowledged and upheld. The
empowerment of widows is key to Goals 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 10, and 11.

WRI joins sister organisations asking States Parties to consider key strategies to
ensure the rights of women and girls experiencing widowhood, especially in the rural

Inheritance Rights: inheritance laws must reflect the gender equality targets
outlined by the Sustainable Development Goals. We urge States Parties to adopt
equitable inheritance laws.

Land Rights: Securing land rights are critical to the attainment of human rights for
the rural widow as this provides food security, income, shelter, and the means to
educate her children, keep her daughters in school and protect them from early
marriage and other exploitation.

Rights Awareness: The barriers that prevent a widow from accessing her legal
rights must be changed through dedicated campaigns, including with faith and
community leaders as well as all forms of media.

Disaggregated Data: Adequate and appropriate data needs to be collated to
ensure the formation of robust policies to empower widows.

Criminalisation: All acts of harmful and degrading stigmatization rites and harmful
traditional practices against widows and acts that impede a widow from securing her
legal claim to her inheritance should be criminalised in national law.

Economic Empowerment: There is a clear link between economic
empowerment and an improvement in the human rights status of widows. Activities
undertaken by civil society have proven that offering widows economic opportunity
and human rights training is critical to preventing the cycle of poverty. Indeed civil
society can offer many examples of best practice in regard to this and many other
areas of work for widows.

WRI joins sister organisations in urging States Parties to:
Ø Appoint a UN Special Representative on WIDOWHOOD
Ø Approve the drafting of a UN Resolution on WIDOWHOOD
Ø Commission a special report on “widowhood in armed conflict”
Ø Support a special desk dedicated to Widowhood issues at UN WOMEN
Ø Select WIDOWHOOD as the “Emerging Issue” for future sessions of CSW
Ø Ensure that “marital status” is added to disaggregation of statistics
Ø Acknowledge that rural widows are a sub-set of women experiencing special
forms of abuse that require specific responses and remedies
Ø Support initiatives and “best practices” to fill the gap in data on widows
Ø Acknowledge that Widowhood is a root cause of expanding and increasing
poverty and inequality across generations
Ø Develop a CEDAW General Recommendation on the rights of widows
Ø Mainstream Widowhood issues in the 2030 Agenda, Women, Peace and
Security and the VAWG agendas
Ø Acknowledge and encourage research into widowhood as a driver of child
Ø Ensure legislation that protects land and inheritance rights for widows

Widows’ Rights International (WRI) provides an exchange of vital information for all
those concerned with challenging the abuse of widows. We support the
international campaign to end harmful cultural practices that ignore the human rights
of widows and lead to their dire poverty and social exclusion. We raise awareness
and understanding of the discrimination and violence encountered by widows across
the globe. We advocate for widows’ rights to be integrated into the human rights
agendas of national and international agencies. We promote the emergence of a
vibrant and informed network of community based groups, widows’ groups, NGOs,
lawyers and human rights activists working on widowhood issues.
We urge States Parties and actors at all levels to create robust mechanisms that
recognise the dire situation of widows and take fully funded action to ensure their
positives futures are realised.

Co-signatories with consultative status with ECOSOC: Association of War Affected
Women, Global Fund for Widows, National Alliance of Women’s Organisations,
Widows for Peace through Democracy. Others: Naserian, Women for Human