Grounded in the vision of equality enshrined in the UN Charter, UN Women, among other issues, works for the: elimination of discrimination against women and girls; empowerment of women; and, achievement of equality between women and men as partners and beneficiaries of development, human rights, humanitarian action and peace and security. One of UN Women’s global objectives is to work to end violence against women and to enhance the role of women in post-conflict negotiations. One of the tragic results of conflict and strife is an increasing number of female –headed households. Throughout the world such households are often the most economically deprived and socially and politically marginalized. In Iraq and other countries in the region there are millions of households headed by women.

Learning of the network set up in South Asia and the work that UN Women has undertaken with SANWED over the years, it was felt that such a loose network working for widows’ empowerment, and to mainstream widows’ rights at the national and regional level, would be of great benefit to Iraq and the region.

It was also considered that experienced organisations working with female headed households in conflict ridden societies of the Middle East might benefit from experiences in South Asia. In addition, having the opportunity to share experiences and then decide whether setting up a regional network to work together for policy change would also be helpful. As a result of this event, the buy-in of stakeholders may well be insured through the discussions as well as a greater understanding of the issues across the region.

The issue of female headed households has been largely unvoiced in national and international fora and yet in conflict and post-conflict regions, the numbers of female headed households has grown significantly. Often countries are slow to take gender sensitive action and fear criticism that in some instances may allude to cultural practices. By bringing together experts and activists from across the region and focusing on conflict and post conflict zones, the participants can identify commonalities and consider best practice from elsewhere to assist them to overcome the many and varied challenges. If a single country is asked to note the challenges for female headed households, they may become defensive, whilst if they are asked to look at the situation in principle, across a region, they are more likely to respond and eventually take action.

One outcome of the event may be the beginning of a process to establish a regional entity to support the work on these issues together with a network of organisations and individuals working in this area from the region and from elsewhere. It may lead to a larger event based on learning from this seminar later in the year and wider support from stakeholders working on these issues across the region.

The attending participants represent key organisations working in this field, who together, embody great and varied experience. The conference has been organised to ensure full interaction between participants and there will be many opportunities to share best practice from across the region and learn from each other. This will include the variety of projects for the economic empowerment for widows and female headed households, successful advocacy tools, and lobbying activities that have taken place to ensure the issue of widows has been raised in national and international fora including regarding CEDAW and financial and legal assistance.

The conference is intended to be action-orientated and we look forward to some practical outputs such as action plans for key areas of concern in regard to widows/female headed households, both for the region as a whole and for each country and organisation represented.

Certainly one expected outcome is greater profile for this issue in the region and increased collaboration between activists, NGOs and other stakeholders.

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