In light of the priority theme for CSW 57, `Prevention and Elimination of Violence against Women and Girls`, We, the Women for Human Rights of Nepal, Guild for Service India, Widows Development Organization, Africa and Widows for Peace through Democracy, UK, the organizations representing widows of all ages, in developing, conflict and post-conflict countries, take this opportunity to express our continued support for the full and effective implementation of the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action (BPfA).
We particularly welcome the opportunity to highlight the often hidden aspects of violence perpetrated against widows and their daughters. Widow-related gender based violence has not been adequately researched, nor is there reliable data or qualitative information on the causes, nature, and consequences of these practices. This issue has been neglected by governments, and the international community. Furthermore, even where Member States have legislated to criminalize violence against women, laws are poorly enforced. Widows of all ages, child widows, young mothers and elderly women in developing countries, especially in Africa, South Asia and the Middle East, experience many different forms of violence.
In conflict and post-conflict contexts, more complex environments, the violence is exacerbated, leaving scars that last a life time, and that affect the society and its future. Widows are likely to silently suffer extreme and systematic physical, psychological, sexual and economic violence both within their families and in the wider community. Across regions, religions, cultures, caste and class, widows can be stigmatized as bringing bad luck, being `inauspicious`, or having the ` evil eye`. Deprived of rights to inheritance of property and land, they can be `inherited` as chattel through forced marriage to a dead husband’s relative. Powerless, widows are often exploited as domestic, agricultural and sexual slaves. Mourning and burial rites forced on widows may include `ritual cleansing by sex` (a practice believed to exorcise the evil spirits), extreme restrictions on mobility, diet, dress and freedom of association. Many poor rural widows migrate to urban centres in the hope of finding employment to feed themselves and their children, where again their poverty and powerlessness leave them vulnerable to the worst forms of exploitation, including trafficking.
Additionally, the daughters of poor widows are also at risk of the violence of `forced child marriage` in itself violent. Homelessness and displacement in the post-conflict transitional period leaves millions of uncounted widows, without any sources of support. The greatest obstacle to effectively preventing and eliminating violence against widows is the lack of data: numbers, ages, numbers of dependents, needs, roles, coping strategies, support systems, legal status, and access to justice. We the non-governmental organizations listed above, ask for the following recommendations to be taken up by the UN and governments.