UK: Acting Together for Iraqi widows

Act Together
Act Together: Women’s Action for Iraq together with several other Iraqi and British women’s organisations, artists and activists organized a vigil to draw attention to the plight of Iraqi widows.
On the occasion of International Widows Day, over 60 women and men representing 13 organizations held a 2 hour long silent vigil on the steps of St. Martin’s in the Field (London, UK).
We handed out over 1000 leaflets and several of us gave interviews to the media, particularly Arabic Radio and Television stations.

Our leaflets, banner’s and placards drew attention to the fact that, according to official and NGO sources, more than 90 Iraqi women become widows each day due to continuing violence across the country. In other words, far over 90 Iraqi men die daily from the violence caused by the occupation forces, sectarian tensions and insurgents. Although few reliable statistics are available on the total number of widows in Iraq, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs says that there are at least 300,000 in Baghdad alone, with hundreds of thousands more throughout the country (UN Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs, April 2006) and estimates put the number of Iraqi widows currently registered with the Ministry at over 1 million.

Saddam Hussein was responsible for the killings of thousands of men during his repressive dictatorship: political repression and a series of wars caused a demographic imbalance with the female population making up about 55-65% of the overall population of about 24 million Iraqis. The situation has become much more critical since the US-led invasion in 2003, as the daily violence and killings of innocent civilians goes side by side with an ineffective government that fails to provide the necessary financial and social support for the growing numbers of widows. Left with virtually no government support, no salaries due to the economic crisis and high unemployment rates, collapsed family networks due to the ongoing humanitarian crisis and lack of security, many widows are left no choice but to beg on the streets or even to engage in prostitution.

These were our demands:
  • End the occupation - Stop the violence by US and UK forces
  • End the killing of innocent civilians by insurgents, militias and death squads
  • Financial assistance and wide-scale income generating projects for widows
  • Legal rights and representation especially in terms of the atrocities committed by the previous regime and the occupation forces
The vigil took place at the same time as a concert in Trafalgar Square following a workshop on widows sponsored by Cherie Blair. While we did not want to discredit the Loomba Foundation organizing the concert, we were trying bring the point across that many Iraqi women and men and large parts of the British public hold Cherie Blair’s husband responsible for the creation of thousands of Iraqi widows in the context of the invasion in 2003 and the ongoing occupation.

The vigil was preceded by a 3 day banner-making and art workshop organized by Rashad Salim. A group of artists and activists prepared original art work, including a painting of a funeral in Iraq by the Iraqi artist Feisel Laibi, a performance piece by a young Iraqi-British artists called Zeena, two coffins decorated with endearments and Arabic calligraphy symbolizing the victims of war by Rashad Salim and several other original works.

We are hoping that this was just the beginning of a series of events and activities that will bring people together to act together, especially Iraqi women’s organisations. Several ideas are floating for future actions: a fundraising event to support an independent charity or NGO working with widows and orphans as well as supporting an orphanage; a big International Women's Day event where we would try to take centre stage on Trafalgar Square...

Meanwhile ‘Act Together: Women's Action for Iraq’ is planning a 2 week campaign at the end of July around the personal status laws and the constitution. We are bringing a woman’s rights activist over from Iraq who is involved in the campaign to amend the family laws inside Iraq. We are planning several public events, workshops and media appearances. The idea is to bring this woman activist together with women who were involved in drafting the constitution in 1959.