un conferences on women

The UN convened an historic fourth international conference on women, in Beijing in 19951. Even though the unique situation of widows wasn’t explicitly discussed at that forum, Beijing seems to have been a sort of catalyst that opened the way for international organizations to begin organizing, cooperating, and advocating for awareness of the plight of widows worldwide.

In many ways progress since then has been slow, as evidenced by the fact that even in the March 2019 “Conclusions from the Sixty-Third Session of the Commission on the Status of Women”2 (a 22 page report, available here) only one paragraph includes the phrase “including in cases of widowhood” (para.47(m)).

Admittedly, if governments across the world would successfully implement the many recommendations of the report, the reality for widows, as for all women, would be vastly different.

However, long experience has demonstrated that even when society allows for changes in the status of women generally, the status of widows tends to remain unchanged, because in many societies in the developing world they are considered non-persons, things with no rights in society, just because they are widows.


A UN World Conference on Women was to have been held 09 - 20 March 2020 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, but had to be postponed indefinitely because of the Covid-19 pandemic.  

A one-day scaled-down face-to-face meeting re-affirmed the Beijing recommendations but expressed regret that progress has been slow in addressing issues of discrimination against women throughout the world.

When the Conference reconvenes, will widows, their unique challenges and the appalling discrimination against them, make it onto the agenda in any meaningful way?

The "Conclusions from the Sixty-Sixth session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women" in March 2022 did, in fact, mark a historic milestone in the fight for justice and equality for widows.  "Widows" were named twice within the 64 agreed-upon Conclusions.

A  seemingly insignificant step, but for those who have spent a lifetime campaigning to stir the world's conscience about the despicable treatment of widows, this represents a small victory.


A hugely significant event happened at the UN on March 15, 2022. Margaret Owen of Widows for Peace Through Democracy calls it a milestone - a triumph. This was the historic adoption of the UN Resolution on the Situation of Widows.

The Resolution expresses concern over the appalling forms of violence, discrimination, neglect and ostracization to which widows are subjected in much of the developing world. It calls on UN Member States to gather hard data, and to enact laws and practical strategies by which the situation of widows may be alleviated and they may be accorded their full human rights. 

Admittedly, this Resolution is non-binding on Member States, but it does create leverage for humanitarian organizations and civil society by which to pressure their respective governments to address the realities of widows.


Every year the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) holds a follow-up meeting, where NGOs also host special interest parallel events. These probe more deeply into issues arising from Beijing '95 and the UN SDGs.

Watch one of these parallel sessions from CSW60 (in 2016) entitled "Widowhood: An Economic, Social, and Humanitarian Crisis". It was hosted by the Global Fund for Widows, Widows for Peace Through Democracy, and Widows Rights International.

The session provides an excellent awareness piece, as well as letting you hear and see some of the key players in this long fight for true empowerment of widows globally.


1  “The United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women (FWCW or Beijing), held in Beijing, China, September 4–15, 1995, was the largest and most influential of all the World Conferences on Women. Nearly 180 government delegations and 2,500 nongovernmental organizations met to discuss a broad range of issues concerning women. They drew on and moved beyond language agreed upon at earlier international conferences, including the International Conference on Population and Development in 1994. The Beijing Conference was a turning point in the world's understanding of women's human rights.”  http://www.5wwc.org/conference_background/1995_WCW.html  

2 “The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW or UNCSW) is a functional commission of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), one of the main UN organs within the United Nations. CSW has been described as the UN organ promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women.”   Wikipedia   

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