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CSW and the Brief History of One Word......

Margaret Owen, Director Widows for Peace through Democracy is recovering from her 11th visit to the UN CSW where she tried, in vain, to win support for the world's widows. She asks in bitter disappointment, why it is, when never before in human history has there been such an explosion in the numbers of widows, the poorest, most stigmatised and marginalised women in the world, that no one really wants to know.

Margaret Owen
17 March 2009

After eight days  and evenings of effort, meetings, draftings, lobbying, talking, to all and sundry (Senior UN officials, government, NGOs) at the 53rd Session of the CSW and a fortune spent on getting to New York and paying for our incredibly overpriced hotel beds ( as the £ dived)  in order to get WIDOWS and WIDOWHOOD at least referenced in the Agreed Conclusions on the priority theme " Equal Sharing of Responsibilities between women and men, including care-giving in the context of HIV/AIDS", today I am gob smacked by our defeat. 

The "widow" word is barely there.  How incomprehensible, scandalous and stupid.

It's well known by now that across the developing world in general and in conflict affected countries in particular, widows are systematically targeted for rape and worse,deliberately or recklessly infected with the HIV virus, and, as widows, mostly evicted from their homes, deprived of inheritance, land and property. They are often the sole carers of children, other orphans, sick, wounded, elderly and traumatised.  Key providers in their communities. Yet their poverty and their crucial roles go unaddressed, either by the UN, the donors, or governments.

Below is our modest proposed addition to the Agreed Conclusions, totally supported, I am proud to say, by our own UK delegation to the CSW and indeed by the UK mission to the UN who had sent it on to the EU (European Union) group. We had to make an addition, not an amendment, since there was no where in the draft document that gave us an opening for an insertion... 

"CONDUCT RESEARCH AND IDENTIFY THE GLOBAL DEMOGRAPHIC PROFILE AND THE SPECIAL NEEDS AND ROLES OF WIDOWS OF ALL AGES AS CAREGIVERS IN THE CONTEXT OF THE  HIV/AIDS PANDEMIC IN ORDER TO, INTER ALIA, PROTECT THEM FROM DISCRIMINATION, VIOLENCE, HARMFUL TRADITIONAL PRACTICES, AND ENSURE THEIR RIGHTS TO INHERITANCE, LAND AND ACCESS TO BOTH THEIR HUMAN RIGHTS AND EQUAL PARTICIPATIPN IN PEACE BUILDING, RECONCILIATION AND RECONSTRUCTION ACTIVITIES"

But we were up against powerful rivals with strong caucuses and global support: children and the "older women". We could not join up with the latter, for we needed to dispel the myth that widows are "old". Many are young and may still be children - child brides for widowers whose wives have died from AIDS. When will the international community get to understand that behind the mass of impoverished hungry homeless children, there are widowed mothers? If their needs and roles are not addressed, there is no hope for reducing child poverty, getting children into education or achieving any of the Millennium Development Goals 

Great if that had gone in. Who could object?  But it was not to be. Alas, we did not have a "caucus" like the girl child, youth and the older women caucuses that bring lots of different lobbying NGO groups together.  Next year if I can ever bear (or afford to return) we will have set one up: Widowsaction.caucus and maybe we will be more powerful and effective as we get more support from NGOs from all the different regions.

Activities and campaigns focusing on children always win hearts and therefore money.  Raising support and funding to get widows' voices heard, and widow's roles acknowledged and supported is, by comparison, a bitter and thankless task. Ministries of Women, in developing countries, most with derisory funding, rarely have the capacity to address the status of widows, let alone count how many their country is host to. (See Iraqi Minister for Women's Resignation speech in February when she spoke of the "army of widows" her department was unable to help)

Never mind that never before in human history has there been such an explosion in the numbers of widows, children, young women, and the elderly - and that these are the poorest, most stigmatised and marginalised women in the world, no one really wants to know. At least our UK delegation listened to us and backed us.  

Today, to my intense disappointment, I opened my laptop and used the "find" key.  One pathetic mention that gives no impression or information on the appalling situation of widows in the context of HIV/AIDS, conflict, poverty, violence and stigma. Widows in this setting, especially if they are older women, are often accused of being "witches"; many are beaten and killed. Yet they are the people solely responsible for raising the next generation, finding shelter, food, water, and safety. Why on earth are the Member States so blind, so hopeless, so unimaginative and uncreative?

This is what we got in the Agreed Conclusions for all our efforts:

"Develop multi sectoral policies and programs and identify, strengthen and take all necessary measures to address the needs of women and girls, including older women and widows, infected with or affected by HIV/AIDS, and those providing unpaid care giving, especially women and girls heading households, for, inter alia, social and legal protection, increased access to financial and economic resources including micro-credit and sustainable economic opportunities, education including opportunities to continue education, as well as access to health services, including affordable antiretroviral treatment, and nutritional support".

Hopeless. Ineffective. Should I be over the moon for having spent £1,500 being in New York to get just this tiny mention? 

And now they've decided that the 54th CSW will be on "implementation of the Beijing PFA"    What? All over again? The 12 action areas which have never, in 14 years, been implemented?   See what I mean. Why come back next year? ...and yet and yet....just the carrot of that tiny word appearing in a document pulls, attracts, seduces.....................

 

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