Mothers' Union speak about war widows in rural communities at UNCSW

Mothers’ Union member Marthe Vira, from DR Congo, was on Wednesday 14th March one of the speakers for the National Alliance of Women’s Organisations (NAWO) panel event “Child widows and young widows” at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW). Marthe presented on her experiences with war widows in her country’s rural communities

When speaking about widows there is a natural assumption that we are talking about elderly women, and in the past, it has often been elderly widows who have benefitted most from the attentions of NGOs. However Marthe highlighted that widows are indeed often young; some are young mothers, and some, quite shockingly are girls as young as eight or nine years old. Little reliable data on child widows is available and there are yet only a few statistics on the issue, therefore panel events like this are important to attend so that these women and girls can be represented, and their stories shared.

Marthe used the event to highlight the plight of war widows in DR Congo – a country which has arguably the largest number of war widows in the world. Many of these widows can be found in rural settings in the villages surrounding main cities where war and conflict have continued for many years.

When husbands die from conflict the plight of the widow does not stop at the death of a loved one - traditions, customs and discriminatory interpretations of religious codes often lead to women being stigmatised in the very communities that they have been living in. They will also lose their home; their livelihood and their children will suffer further through the subsequent loss of education.

Amid this suffering Marthe was able to speak about how Mothers’ Union (MU) is “raising the women up and helping them to be able to move on with their lives.” Projects led by Mothers’ Union members in DRC range from offering counselling and building peace through reconciliation right through to vocational training in areas such as literacy and financial education.

In the discussion after the speeches it was established that to talk about the problem of young and child widows you also must include the problems around child marriage within that same dialogue. Felicia Yeboah Asuamah, MU delegate, spoke to the room and said, “If we confront the issues of child marriage we are also helping tackle the problem of child widows.”

Mothers’ Union are committed to continue to work through our 4 million members worldwide in tackling this issue – both through our advocacy campaigns and our grassroot projects supporting vulnerable women and girls. 

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