out of the shadows
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Many of us feel that widows are made ‘invisible’ at the highest levels at the United Nations.
It can seem that no one wants to hear about marginalised widows or widowhood.

So why does no one want to name ‘widows’ or ‘widowhood’?
As our inspirational WPD President and Founder Margaret Owen puts it: “they don’t want to count, register, hear widows’ voices. As that might require them (ie UN Member States) to pay widows pensions or social protection. Or challenge powerful religious tribal leaders.”

But after real concerted pressure from civil society, finally, the word widows appears not once but twice in the Agreed Conclusions of the The sixty-sixth session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW66) in March.

The CSW66 Agreed Conclusions is a 20 page document with 64 conclusions (with conclusion 62 containing 22 ‘subconclusions’).

Small steps certainly but nevertheless a change!

Widows for Peace through Democracy (WPD) has helped lead the way to pressure, to prompt and to demand that widows are brought out of the shadows, their voices heard and that they are named so that Member States can no longer play ‘blind’ to some of the most vulnerable women in their countries, communities and families.

CSW66 Agreed Conclusions – Mention of Widows

Widows appear first in conclusion 27:

’27. The Commission reiterates the importance of mainstreaming a gender perspective in disaster risk management, taking into account the perspectives of all women and girls including those in vulnerable situations and women and girls with disabilities. It recognizes the need for the inclusive participation and contribution of all women and girls, older women, widows*, indigenous women and girls, local communities, youth, volunteers, migrants, academia, scientific and research entities and networks, business, professional associations, private sector financing institutions and the media, in all forums and processes related to disaster risk reduction, in accordance with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.’

In other words, the UN Commission on the Status of Women recognises widows’s participation and as being needed in all forums and processes related to disaster risk management.

Widows are mentioned for the second and final time towards the end, in 7th part of conclusion 62:

’62. The Commission urges governments at all levels and as appropriate, with the relevant entities of the United Nations system and international and regional organizations, within their respective mandates and bearing in mind national priorities, and invites civil society, inter alia, women’s organizations, youth-led organizations, feminist groups, faith-based organizations, the private sector and, national human rights institutions, where they exist, and other relevant stakeholders, as applicable, to take the following actions:

‘Strengthen normative, legal and regulatory frameworks
(f) Identify and eliminate all forms of discrimination against women and girls in the context of climate change, environmental degradation and disasters, in relation to land tenure security and access to, ownership of, and control over land, and other forms of property, inheritance, natural resources, appropriate new technology and financial services, including microfinance and ensure women’s and girls’ access to justice and accountability for violations of their human rights, with particular attention given to older women, widows* and young women;’

To summarise: the UN CSW urges governments to identify and eliminate all forms of discrimination against women and girls – with particular attention to widows – against all forms of discrimination referred to above.

Widows are also indirectly referred to in the 19th part of conclusion 62:

‘Enhancing gender statistics and data disaggregated by sex
(ss) Strengthen the capacity and coordination of national statistical and data production offices and government institutions to collect, analyse, disseminate and use data and statistics on climate change, environmental degradation and disasters, including data disaggregated by income, sex, age, race, ethnicity, marital status*, migration status, disability, geographical location and other characteristics relevant in national contexts, safeguarding privacy rights and data protection, to inform the design, implementation and tracking of climate change, environmental and disaster risk reduction policies and programmes, improve approaches to averting, minimizing and addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change, environmental degradation and disasters, and support developing countries in this effort, including through the mobilization of financial and technical assistance to ensure high-quality, reliable and timely disaggregated data and gender statistics;’

The inclusion of ‘marital status’ in disaggregated data gathering is something WPD has long been advocating for.
It was rightly thought some years ago that a woman should not be defined by her ‘marital status’ while unfortunately forgetting that if you remove it, then you effectively make widows invisible to statisticians, politicians, legislators and policy makers. So, small as perhaps it appears, we are delighted to see the inclusion of ‘marital status’ enhancing the list of disaggregated data by sex in the Agreed Conclusions. We continue to advocate for the inclusion of widows and widowhood at UN high-level commissions such as CSW, UN reports and widow-sensitive policy guidance that leads to recognition and understanding of the intersectional needs of the most marginalised ‘invisible’ widows globally.

We are of course delighted about the triumph of the recently adopted UN Resolution on the Situation of Widows.
As Margaret Owen, OBE, said at the time, ‘I am hopeful that this milestone event will galvanise support for the inclusion, in the CSW66 Agreed Conclusions, of references to widows’.
It has indeed done so.
We and our partners continue to work towards many more future inclusions of widows in high level reports and guidance – and, one day, for such inclusions to be legally binding at an international level.
And we continue to promote widows’ rights as human rights!

By Alice Fookes, WPD Trustee, with research and contributions by Christine Crowstaff (WPD admin team).

Read more: ‘UN Resolution on the Situation of Widows is a Milestone!’ – Margaret Owen, OBE

See the full CSW66 Agreed Conclusions here.

* The underlining is by WPD

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