Widowhood, which afflicts almost 10% of Iraqi women, is not only a sorrowful event but a disempowering one, leading to social and economic marginalization. In order to empower and support the needs of vulnerable widows in Iraq under its 12-month Empowering Widows in Iraq (EWI) program funded by the United States Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Rights and Labor, Relief Inter-national (RI) proposed a number of interventions aimed at building awareness as well as capacity within Iraqi government and civil society to respond to the needs of widows in Iraq.
RI first sought to assess the number of widows in Iraq and identify their needs. RI’s national Widows Sur-vey found that illiteracy, lack of housing, poverty, unemployment and insufficient wages, as well as wars and sectarian violence have each afflicted this population in significant ways. Many widows live precariously, with insufficient means to provide for emergencies, and little ability to improve their situation through employment, since many lack skills or educational degrees. The children of widows also face difficulty in achieving a high educational level. The widows surveyed by RI reported that they felt ignored and neglected by their com-munities, government, and in some cases, by their children or families. Widows also felt threatened and have often faced physical violence at the hands of their in-laws. Remarkably, widows identified social traditions as a main force in perpetuating abuse against them, manifested in practices such as limiting their movement, permitting physical beating, or harassment.