South Asian Conference Capacity Building of Marginalized Women: Widow
1st-3rd February 2002, New Delhi
Comments, Opinions, Statements, Questions, Answers
Global Overview, by Margaret Owen
Changing Lives of Asian Widows in Britain, by Indira Patel
COMMENTS . . . OPINIONS . . . STATEMENTS . . . QUESTIONS . . . ANSWERS
The dynamic moments at the conference were those when delegates passionately spoke their minds for the cause that had brought them all together . . . when strong opinions flew back and forth and last words had to be got in. Some of the points made were:
- When a Muslim widow marries again and if her second husband does not accept her children (from previous marriage), then who takes responsibility for those children? Grandmother keeps the children . . . other family members distribute the responsibility. Why would a widow marry again anyway if the kids were distributed in this way?
- What happens to the meher when the girl is widowed? It is up to the discretion of the judge. The nature of the judiciary is the same everywhere. The judge is patriarchal; customs in society govern his decisions. Many times the women do not even know what has been put down in the "nikkah nama" or marriage agreement
- Widows have always been strong; there is strength and the ability to survive alone . . . Does no one recognize that? Is this strength not seen?
- The Muslim law allows widows to get a share in the husband's property but how many women are able to exercise that right? Not too many people would one like to exercise property rights over their own parental family.
- There is so much sexual harassment in politics. Widows who get into politics are the most vulnerable as they are seen as unattached.
- The chadar system of Punjab was conceived as a method to keep property within the household. Many times this is done under pressure and the widow is silenced into marrying one of the brothers-in-law.
- Hindu traditions attack the concept of remarriage amongst widows . . . we must attack religion.
*What is the first stage of suppression of a widow? Let us know so that it can be attacked and nipped in the bud so we kill the suppression before it magnifies.
- There is no one way to suppress it. It is a culmination of many factors. It is the change of mindset that has to be initiated. There are so many things to consider . . .
- Position of the woman depends upon the economic status, government gives the money . . . a lot of men are willing to marry the widows but in-laws do not want them to so the money stays in the family.
- Remarriage is a system of complete dependence and a very bad idea. What we want is the dignity of the women to be protected.
- I am dealing with 56 cases of widows' property. Our legal procedures are lengthy, patriarchal and expensive. By the time we have solved one step in a case, counter charges are placed on the widow. I am frustrated.
- In Kolar district Karnataka we conducted an income augmentation training. 70% of the 150 women who came forward were women who were unattached (widows, divorced, abandoned).
- There are innocent men caught in the cross fire between the terrorist and the armed forces. The widows of these men never receive compensation or any other benefit from the government. If the woman is a widow of an informer she suffers the worst trauma. The stigma of being an informer's wife stays with her all her life. Unless she can produce what is called an "innocence certificate" there is no chance of a widows pension. This "innocence certificate" is given by the police and is never very simple to procure.
- The trauma of being suddenly widowed is the worst state for women to be in. It has been observed that many widows prefer to go to Faith Healers rather than professional counselors. In their opinion healers are more practical and understand their problems better.
- Women have a tremendous capacity and resilience. But how can we bring about a change in the social customs? We have perpetuated our own troubles . . . why do literate men behave the way they do?
- Moral Education
THAT IS THE ONLY ANSWER TO SOLVE THE PROBLEMS IN OUR SOCIETY
GLOBAL OVERVIEW by MARGARET OWEN
"How is the widow perceived? We have heard the many adjectives yesterday and today . . . we know what society thinks of the widow. This is our greatest barrier – people’s perception . . . There is light at the end of the tunnel if widows themselves band together and become agents of change."
Since time immemorial we have heard stories of unkindness . . . Oliver Twist, stories of bad stepmother and stepfather . . . stories about children of widows. Has anyone thought about these children? The economically weak widow pulls out her child from school, as she cannot afford to pay for the fees any longer. Children out of school are fertile soil for terrorists. Has UNICEF ever looked at children of widows, daughters of widows?
The different practices against widows we have been hearing from all the delegates are atrocious. Even in Africa some practices are horrific. Can women band together and change all that?
The numbers of widows that rise from armed conflict are not counted at all. The alarming reason for increase in the numbers of widows in Africa is the scourge of AIDS. In Uganda, widowed women with AIDS are banding together with other such women and are giving each other support.
At the UN meetings, a number of voices will be raised later next month by some of us. And widow's voices will be taken forward at an international platform. The CEDAW committee should give the different governments questionnaires about these issues and find out what has been addressed.
CHANGING LIVES OF ASIAN WIDOWS IN BRITAIN by INDIRA PATEL
"What is that Asian women are thinking? What is her mindset? What does she want? More women are speaking out now."
Asians make up of the worlds’ population, within ethnic minorities there are huge Asian groups. Asian communities in Britain live in ghettos, in complete isolation. There is hardly any interaction with local people. Even when there are harmful practices, no one comes to know as matters remain hidden within the community and no one discusses it outside. Even in the media being minorities in the country, Asian issues do not come into the forefront.
A survey was recently done on Asian women in Britain. The first generation of Asian women's lives has changed for the better. There is no stigma attached to being a widow. Women go back to work as soon as they can and do not stay home for the 40 days, as was the usual custom. Wearing white clothes is completely out now and is looked at as something from the past. Widows continue to go out to the cinema or to parties, often, other women take them out. We have managed to bring some change in some of the customs. When a husband dies the widow was expected to sit on the floor when receiving guests. Now they sit on the sofas or chairs, earlier in addition to her grief the widow would also have back aches and body aches due to the cold weather.
The government has social security structures in place; the children go to school free. Medical treatment is free through the National Health Service where every citizen is registered. But like in South Asia, women often do not know of their rights and often do not even know what they own.
Asian men still dominate as leaders, decision makers and religious heads. This goes against women as their voices are not heard. Then there is double discrimination, that they're women and that they are Asian.
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