Act Together: Women's Action for Iraq, together with several other Iraqi and British women's organisations, artists and activists, organised a vigil on International Widows Day - 23 June - to draw attention to the plight of Iraqi widows. More than 60 women and men, representing 13 organisations, gathered the steps of St Martin-inthe-Fields in central London.
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, more than 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. Estimates put the number registered with the Ministry across the country at over one 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 to 65% of the overall population. 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 to engage in prostitution.
The demands of the vigil included:
- Ending the occupation - Stop the violence by US and UK forces;
- Ending the killing of innocent civilians by insurgents, militias and death squads;
- Financial assistance and widescale 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 was preceded by a three-day banner-making and art workshop, organised by Rashad Salim, where a group of artists and activists prepared original artwork for the vigil.
Act Together is hoping that this was just the beginning of a series of events and activities that will bring people together, especially Iraqi women's organisations.
Several ideas are floating about for future actions, but for now, Act Together is planning a two-week campaign at the end of July around the personal status laws and the constitution. The group is bringing a women's rights activist over from Iraq who is involved in the campaign to amend the Iraqi family laws. The idea is to bring her together with women who were involved in drafting the constitution in 1959.