WIDOWHOOD AND ARMED CONFLICT:
CHALLENGES FACED AND STRATEGIES FORWARD
Organisers : Australian Red Cross and ICRC,
in collaboration with the Swedish Red Cross
The prevalence of armed conflicts and the high levels of military
and civilian casualties in armed conflicts has resulted in a large
number of widows in many countries. In this workshop we used the
term widow in a very broad sense encompassing women who do not know
the fate of their missing husbands.
Throughout the world women have shown remarkable and commendable
courage, resourcefulness and resilience in carrying on with the
trauma of their loss, the isolation imposed by being a widow and
with the difficult tasks of providing an income, sustaining and
protecting themselves and their dependent family members.
The ICRC has a long history of bringing assistance and protection
to the victims of armed conflict.
Historical records indicate that one of the first activities of
the ICRC was to assist needy widows in the Franco-Prussian war in
the 1870s. The ICRC continues to assist and protect widows throughout
the world where they have been identified as the most vulnerable.
This Workshop explored the problems faced by widows during armed
conflict and its aftermath. It identified the coping strategies
of widows and the ways that programmes of assistance and protection
can best take into account the long-term needs of widows for self-sufficiency
and self-reliance. Presentations were given from a range of countries
higlighting the realties faced by many widows across the world.
There was an underlying theme that widows needed to be listened
to and encouraged to unite into groups and not seen as a threat
now that they are perceived as outside the normal social order.
Widows need to be enabled to participate fully in the social, economic
and political reconstruction of the country. This requires that
they benefit from civic education, literary programmes, vocational
training and support for small business ventures.
Constructive suggestions to better assist or support widows were
as follows : - the need to search for the missing, with a policy
of exhumation; - the need to identify the numbers of widows affected
by armed conflict in order to be able to assess the scale of the
problems that affect them; - the importance of psycho-social counselling,
emotional support and empowerment; - the need to identify the problems
of widowhood and the thematic links with other issues such as street
children and child soldiers; - moral redress and material compensation
on the part of the State; - adequate national legislation to protect
and assist widows including the rights to land and inheritance;
- legal education and representation; - assistance programmes with
a long term perspective enabling future self sufficiency, dignity
and taking into account the specific skills and needs of widows;
- the need not to overlook widows from peace-keeping/enforcement
operations and the likelihood of increasing prevalence of such operations;
and - the need to explore the potential for a women's ombudsman
in countries where the State has not fulfilled its responsibilities.
The following is a brief summary of the key presentations:
Sadzida Rasidagic, President of the "Red Cross of the Federation
of Bosnia and Herzegovina". The displacement, death and disappearance
of so many people as a consequence of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina
has changed the demographic structure of certain regions. Many women
have lost their husbands and breadwinners, the number of children
without a father is ten times higher than before the war. One of
the most serious consequences of the war is the high number of missing
- and the distress and uncertainty caused by not knowing the fate
of your loved ones. Widows are receiving assistance from both governmental
and non-governmental organisations but this is limited and sporadic.
The destruction of social and economic structures as a result of
the war has put women in a difficult position, with few possibilities
to generate income and making them economically dependent. Widows
need to be able to achieve self-reliance through full participation
Erina Baines, UNHCR - UNHCR highlighted some of their activities
to support the capabilities of women, and particularly widows, in
post-conflict situations. Reference was made to a recent evaluation
of the Bosnian Women's Initiative and how lessons learned through
this programme can be used in other such initiatives.
Sandra Flores Correa, Panama Red Cross - As we compare existing
norms (international instruments) to protect and assist women with
the real situation of widows in Central America and Panama, the
viability of applying these norms becomes doubtful in view of the
poor economies and the number of beneficiaries. In Panama, the success
of the campaign by the widows of soldiers is compared to the problems
faced by widows of civilians who did not organise in the same way.
Furthermore, the situation in Guatemala is explored, where a non-international
conflict has left 100,000 widows. To contend with the legal, economic,
moral and social problems they faced, many organisations have been
formed, first and foremost to locate those unaccounted for. This
presentation concludes with some aspects which must be dealt with
in order to meet the personal and social needs of widows.
Monika Kaempf, Public Health Advisor, Health and Relief Division,
ICRC - a brief overview was given of some of ICRC's activities which
directly assist widows. Colonel Nur, Secretary-General, Somali Red
Crescent - The conflict in Somalia has been rooted in traditional
clan rivalries, killing an estimated half a million Somalis and
displacing tens of thousands of people, mainly women and children.
Many women were widowed or do not know the fate of their husbands
who are missing or disappeared as a result of the conflict. The
war led to high unemployment affecting every household, this in
turn has resulted in an erosion of the traditional support given
to widows by the community. Widows and their children are often
left to support themselves.
The Somali RC has initiated a project of credit scheme for women
affected by the war, more than 300 beneficiaries from households
missing their husband or widows have benefited from a loan to improve
their living conditions.
Pum Chantinie, First Deputy Secretary General, Cambodian Red Cross
- The years of war in Cambodia have blurred the clear distinction
of traditional gender roles and responsibilities. Today, 25.8% of
households are headed by women as a result of the husband's death
or long absence due to military action. Cambodian women have suffered
the loss of family, houses, cooking utensils, agricultural tools,
cultivated land and animals. They faced extreme poverty and physical
danger. From one day to the next, physical and economic survival
has been the dominant issue in most women's lives. The change in
the country's demographics has led to a lack of educational attainment,
poor health conditions, underemployment and lack of access to credit.
The proportion of the female population living in poverty is highly
significant. Overcoming the cultural constraints of Khmer society
through legal and policy initiatives directly targeting the inclusion
and participation of women in all aspects of the country's reconstruction
and development is essential.
Gawaher Atif, World Food Programme - WFP outlined some of the
preliminary results obtained from a gender-differentiated study
carried out in Cambodia and WFP's Gender Action Plan for 1999-2000.
This study showed that women who head households are "four times
poor", are stigmatised as widows, are rarely consulted about their
needs and face additional obstacles in participating in food for
General Harrouk, President, Lebanese Red Cross - The effects of
widowhood - physical, social and economic - and the impact that
these have on the women themselves were outlined. Uncertainty for
the future, the possibility of facing family violence or ostracism,
the struggle to maintain family life, and economic hardship can
all be consequences of widowhood. The Lebanese Red Cross ran two
special programmes to assist war widows during the 1980's. These
programmes - bread-making by widows and chicken breeding - were
elaborated. From the experience gained from these programmes, the
Lebanese Red Cross believes that assistance needs to be given in
the form of complete social and economic programmes, which fully
comply with the culture and characteristics of each country.
Margaret Owen, Empowering Widows in Development (UK NGO) - Social
reconstruction is a priority issue which is often ignored in the
context of widowhood. With the extended family, traditionally often
the source of support, either dead or missing, widows and their
children are in need of priority assistance. Above all aid organisations
must listen to their voices. Mechanisms must be put in place to
protect widow's human rights, make them aware of their rights and
integrate them into the new post-conflict economy in order that
they can fully participate in civil society and raise their children.
Lena Hansson, Swedish Red Cross, briefly outlined a meeting to
be held on Wednesday 3rd November entitled "Promoting a Culture
of Peace: Looking ahead on Possible Root Causes of Violence Highlighting
the Role of Men and Masculinity. Charlotte Lindsey, ICRC, read out
ICRC's Pledge given to the 27th International Conference. This pledge
focuses on women affected by armed conflict.
| top |
© 1999 | French (homepage) |