South Asian Network for Widows Empowerment in Development (SANWED)
South Asian Network for Widows Empowerment in Development (SANWED) is a network of organizations and individuals working for the most deprived among the underprivileged, the widows. The rising incidence of widows in South Asia is an issue of major concern, particularly as in patriarchal communities, the marital status of a woman greatly drives her socio-cultural status and her economic stature. This concern was expressed very strongly by the regional delegates at the two international conferences supported by UN Women (then UNIFEM) and hosted by the Guild of Service, "Capacity Building of the Marginalized" in 2002 and "Healing a Hurting World" in 2005. At these conferences, the idea of regional cooperation on the issue of widows and widowhood was mooted and received consensus. SANWED is a collective initiative of and for South Asia to uphold the human right of widows to live a life of dignity, to ensure that they are not socially marginalized, culturally ostracized, and economically deprived. SANWED aimed to be a voice for the voiceless in the region highlighting the issue both at national levels and international fora. The network, while becoming a platform for sharing best practices, was also mandated to create the strength of advocacy within the region.
To advocate for policy and programmes that enable widows to become collective agents of positive change.
The vision of SANWED is for widows to enjoy all human rights so that they are not socially marginalized, culturally ostracized, and economically deprived
The goal of SANWED is that in each country, a national association of widows groups should be established, with branches or member associations in every city, town, village, refugee, or IDP camp so that widows can become aware and access their rights and entitlements and participate in decision-making at every level.
SANWED had the immense advantage of being guided in the nascent stages by Dr. V. Mohini Giri, Founder Chairperson, The Guild of Service, and Margaret Owen, Founder President, Widows for Peace through Democracy, both pioneers on the issue of widowhood, who worked relentlessly to bring global attention to this community.
The Secretariat was situated in Delhi in the initial stages. After the first two years, the secretariat moved to Nepal and was managed very efficiently by the organization called Women for Human Rights (WHR). The Secretariat remained with WHR for eight years during which the SANWED committee met thrice in Nepal, once in Pakistan and once in Sri Lanka. Three impactful international conferences were hosted by WHR in Nepal taking the lobbying strength of SANWED further. WHR took the lead in advocating very successfully for the issue of widows to be included in the Colombo Declaration of the SAARC nations. At the Commission on the Status of Women, through oral and written declaration, the focus has been brought on the issue of widows and the growing incidence of poverty among widows globally. The Widows Charter was developed and disseminated widely. The Core Committee members worked on the Resolution on Widowhood for United Nations Action and presented this to Ms. Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director and Under-Secretary-General UN Women in 2016.
The Secretariat moved to Delhi by consensus in 2020 and is now managed by the Guild of Service. In February 2020, The Guild supported by UN Women, War Widows Association, and Women's Initiative for Peace in South Asia hosted the regional conference of SANWED. One of the outcomes of the conference was the decision to work on a study on the Status of Widows in South Asia. This study could be a basis for advocating for affirmative policies for widows in the region.
The first core committee meeting of the SANWED in the year 2020 was held in Delhi in February at which it was decided that SANWED literature would carry the following line and byeline: "Widows Empowered: SANWED Giving Dignity, Voice and Wellbeing". This was done consciously to present widows not as victims at the mercy of family and community but as agents of change and in control of their lives. The second core committee meeting was held virtually on the 10th of August 2020 to take stock of the impact of COVID on widows and the rising incidence of widows due to the pandemic.