This panel discussion was the last one I attended for the day and the structure was quite different from those I previously experienced. After Margaret Owen, director of Widows for Peace and Democracy gave a brief background explaining the current movement for getting the word widow in the draft agreed conclusions, and the clarification that women are not homogenous and that widows exist of all ages, she presented the challenges existing in addressing the rights of widows such as the lack of available data, illiteracy, and patriarchal law in rural villages.
There was also presentation by WHR (Women for Human Rights) from Nepal. The organization showed a brief clip of the types of work they do and what help they provide for widows such as organizing and mobilizing rural women, lobbying for widows’ rights, and advocating for legal and policy changes. The organization asks the question that how can women who are subject to subordinate rules placed on them by a patriarchal society survive without a husband.
Dr. Eleanor Nwadinobi, Sub-Saharan Africa Regional Chair of the United Nations NGO/DPI Executive Committee, then made the interesting statement that the meeting would not go any further into the problem but rather finding a solution and that the resolution must happen collectively. Dr. Nwadinobi is an inspiring and accomplished woman. I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Nwandinobi speak in a more intimate setting the day before the event. She came to Lehigh University and gave a presentation to my Global Health Issues class about the social and health implications of violence and abuse of rights against widows.
Recommendations that were agreed upon by the audience included education of women and men to provide empowerment, projects around data collection which generate widows talking about themselves, the importance of obtaining land for economic independence and self assurance, and the criminalization of actions which deprive widows of inheritance.
During the open discussions for recommendations a woman from Rwanda spoke about the current situation and status of women after the genocide. Her words silenced the room as women nodded in approval and appreciation for what the women from a war torn country have accomplished. The speaker relayed that the women of Rwanda rebuilt their society, rebuilt their country, and rebuilt themselves. I wanted to make sure that I mentioned that segment because I believe success stories regardless of size or nature are essential for the continued hope that conditions for women especially in rural parts of the world will improve.
Unfortunately we ran out of time to continue collaboration on suggestions and recommendations, however, Margaret, asked for our support and agreement on the “(Suggested) Recommendations From Rural Widows’ Roundtable” that she would present to the Deputy Secretary General. The suggestion/recommendations included:
To: UN, International Community, Governments, and CEDAW
· Appoint a Special Representative on Widowhood
· Commission a Special Report on Widowhood in Developing/Conflict afflicted countries
· Adopt a UN Resolution on Womanhood
· UN to endorse the WIDOWS’ CHARTER as a UN Document
To: Governments and UN Women
· Mainstream widowhood issues in all gender/equality/Human Rights policies and laws
· Ensure implementation of International and modern laws to eliminate discrimination against widows takes precedence of discriminatory customs and traditions
· Support widows’ to “band together” to form their own associations
To: CEDAW; BPFA; UN SCR 1325; MDGs
· Criminalize actions that deprive widows of their inheritance, property, and land rights
· Develop special “land allocation” schemes, and registration of title to ensure rural works can own and cultivate land for food security
· Protect widows from physical , sexual, and psychological violence
The list of recommendations I have provided above are not a comprehensive list and are a mere sample of the multitude of suggestions that will be presented to the Under Secretary General on widows’ behalf as well as the behalf of any individual or organization interested in or concerned with the rights of widows. During the panel a statement was uttered that I believe not only to be true but of also vital importance for the addressing and resolving of the current situation. A woman stated that widowhood is not a women’s issue but rather a societal issue affecting society as a whole, for instance with the expansion of poverty across generations, and needs to be addressed accordingly.