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South Asian Conference Capacity Building of Marginalized Women: Widow
February 2002

We, the delegates and participants of the First South Asian Conference on widows with a South Asian focus, wish to draw the attention of the Governments and Civil Society of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Srilanka, UN and its systems to the the conditions of widows in the region and the urgent need for action.

We want to focus attention on the large number of widows in the region due to poverty, disease, wars, armed conflicts, religious fundamentalism and intolerance, ethnic strife, natural and man made disasters and the demographic tilt towards aging women.

We want to draw the attention of Government to the impact of these violations that have marginalized widows into an invisible community, and ignored their vital contribution to society. Neither Governments nor civil society has created adequate infrastructure for their physical, social and economic dignity.

As a result of their marginalized status widows are subjected to:

Social Exclusion: Manifested through oppressive cultural practices, traditions, so called religious sanctions, and the gulf between precept and practice.

Economic Deprivation: Neglect, extreme poverty, inaccessibility of education and employment opportunities, inability of accessing legal and administrative systems, and rigid patriarchal norms.

Physical and Psychological Victimization: Customary practices of treating widows as objects, commodities, and burdens, and consequentially their poor access to nutrition and health resources, and their subjection to physical, mental and sexual abuse.

We strongly condemn:

Such social, cultural, traditional and solaced religious practices that systematically oppress widows.

The patriarchy underpinning the formulation and enforcement of such laws and customs that perpetuate the violation of the human rights of widows and bar them from inheritance, control over property and ownership of land.

The victimization, exploitation and neglect of widows

Armed conflict as a means to resolve disputes that lead to high incidence of widowhood in the region.

We recommend that:

Customs, practices and traditions that discriminate against widows be abolished by law

Action is taken against any perpetrators of practices that violate the physical, social, and human dignity of widows.

Legal reforms and reviews are undertaken to ensure that widows get their just share of inheritance.

Government policies mainstream widows through social security and economic empowerment schemes.

The human rights of widows are reflected in all international instruments.

Governments, civil society organizations and media of the entire region and the UN system work together in a concerted endeavor to ensure that widows are able to live a life of human dignity.

All religious leaders make a sensitive call to eliminate all discrimination of widows and to encourage their inclusion in all religious and social rituals.

On this day, we the delegates of the conference "Capacity Building of Marginalized Women: Widows" held in Delhi on 1st to 3rd Feb. 2002 come together in unison of purpose to initiate the South Asian Alliance for Widows.

We resolve to:

Work towards creating an effective alliance of civil society organizations which will be the platform for learning from the best practices of each region while also becoming the voice of the millions of the voiceless in the individual countries. Using this combined strength we will network effectively with the UN system to focus global attention on the status of widows.

Lobby individual Governments to create an infrastructure that will make available adequate social security and educational schemes for low income widows and their children, and, in cooperation with NGO's innovative empowerment schemes that aim to make widows architects of their own future.

Lobby Governments and the legal fraternity for the formulation of laws that are gender sensitive and enable widows to claim their rights and share of inheritance. Review of gender insensitive laws and rules, and of discrepancies between statutory law and customary practice, between statutes and their implementation, to be done speedily.

With the support of sensitive religious institutions, the media and civil society organizations create an awareness of and change in the oppressive social, cultural, and verbal practices that reinforce the discriminated status of widows.

Sensitive children and youth to the needs and care of the elderly.

Reinforce those religious and cultural values of the region that encourage care within the family, sharing of resources, providing opportunities for the needy.

Research and documentation of adequate and authentic data that reflects the status of widows in the region, to provide the base document for advocacy at all levels.

Release the strength locked up within widows, so they can harness the potential to work together to claim their personhood and change their marginalized condition.

Raise our voices in protest against the increasing use of armed conflict in this region, and work in all ways to defeat the forces that seek to divide us.

Work with other South Asian Alliances active in the region on peace, human rights and elimination of poverty.

Carry out a systematic campaign to change attitudes towards widows focussing on print and electronic media.

Request UN Committee on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) to dedicate their next survey of Governments progress to the status of widows and their human rights.

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