Since its start in 1997, advocacy has been a major part of the Loomba Foundation’s work. The Loomba Foundation has conducted activities such as the International Widows Day campaign launched in 2005, conferences on the plight of widows, research such as the ground breaking global widows report and book (Invisible Forgotten Suffers), and the unique set of paintings called The Hidden Calamity.
Airship flying over Trafalgar Square in London to mark International Widows Day, 2007.
The flagship campaigning event of the Loomba Foundation is International Widows Day – a day of global focus on the plight of widows, which takes place every year on 23 June. International Widows Day was initially launched by the Loomba Foundation at the House of Lords in London in 2005 and was marked each year by the Loomba Foundation around the world wherever it has had projects and supported by its partner organisations. Loomba Foundation International Widows Day was designed as a campaign to asked the United Nations to set up an international observance day for widows and to raise awareness of the hardships faced by widowed women. At the 65th United Nations General Assembly, the United Nations adopted 23 June as United Nations International Widows Day.
UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon being presented the first edition of the research study book, Invisible Forgotten Sufferers: The Plight of Widows at the United Nations, New York, 2010.
The need for advocacy on widows exists because, while it was clear that other NGOs and activists were working to bring the widows problem to the forefront of global development and human rights work, a breakthrough had not been made. Lacking was a campaign to bind these efforts into a self sustaining movement.
Up to 2004 the Loomba Foundation’s advocacy on widows was done as part of its fundraising events, however by this time, it became clear that a stand-alone campaign was necessary if there was to be global awareness of the widows problem and comprehensive action to solve it. It was from this realisation that International Widows Day was launched by the Loomba Foundation on 23 June 2005, the 23rd of June being the day in 1954 that Raj Loomba’s own mother lost her husband to tuberculosis. The Loomba Foundation marked its International Widows Days annually with high profile events, including individual country events around the world, from Kenya to Syria to India.
The International Widows Day campaign focused on raising awareness among the public and on lobbying the United Nations to adopt 23 June as a United Nations international observance day for widows, based on the knowledge that UN recognition would provide the best platform for action through the United Nations’ global reach and pre-eminent position in international development and human rights. If such high level, global recognition could be gained from the UN, the world’s 245 million widows could begin to be reached at scale, and would represent a starting point for empowerment for each of them to realise that they had rights, and demonstrate that the world felt that they mattered.
In 2006, on 23 June, the Loomba Foundation organised an international conference on widows, held at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), in London. Ten delegates from widows NGOs provide presentations: the delegates attended from Bangladesh, India, Kenya, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, United Kingdom, and Uganda. Topics covered ranged from “Widows as Agents of Change”, to “AIDS and Widowhood Disinheritance”, and “Widow Survivors in Rwanda”.
His Excellency Kofi Annan UN Secretary General attends the launch of the Loomba Foundation & International Widows Day at the H.Q. of the UN in New York in 2005.
In 2007 a dossier on widows was given to every United Nations representative and foreign ministers all United Nations member countries as part of the campaign to lobby the UN to adopt International Widows Day as a United Nations observance day.
By 2009, Raj Loomba was marshalling support from individual UN General Assembly countries to table a resolution for United Nations International Widows Day. Up to this point, the Loomba Foundation, including its USA arm, had put on a number of events in New York at the United Nations to bring the issue to the attention of country members and United Nations staff. During the same year, the Loomba Foundation produced the first comprehensive global report on the deprivation faced by widows, also produced as an abridged book version in 2010, with the purpose of making a conclusive case through hard evidence for a United Nations observance day for widows. The research report is a major achievement in itself as until that point no single comprehensive source of information on widows existed. The report was global in coverage, covering all 192 countries with individual country data on widows numbers and demographic breakdowns, it covered the causes and consequences of becoming a widow. It brought together the insights of a vast number of individual studies on widows that were hitherto largely inaccessible to the public, policy makers, NGOs and activists. It is likely to stand as the single best study on the subject for some time to come. As a result of the weight of evidence the research report was able to provide, on 21 December 2010, after a five year campaign, the United Nations declared 23 June as United Nations International Widows Day at the 65th session of the United Nations General Assembly. Gabon championed the case for International Widows Day at the United Nations.
To amplify the effect of the International Widows Day campaign, the first United Nations International Widows’ Day of 23 June 2011 was marked by The Loomba Foundation with an exhibition of paintings on widows and their children, also published a book – ‘A Hidden Calamity: The Plight of Widows’ – at the United Nations headquarters in New York, the BBC television news covered the exhibition with Yoko Ono. Also in 2011 on the first UN International Widows Day, the Loomba Foundation organised a high level conference at the United Nations in New York onthe plight of widows attended by a distinguished panel that included:
• Michelle Bachelet, UN Women Executive Director
• Sylvia Bongo Ondimba, First Lady of the Gabonese Republic
• Ms. Gillian Tett, US managing editor of the Financial Times
• Ms. Purnima Mane, Deputy Executive Director, UNFPA
• Ms. Ban Soon Taek, wife of the United Nations Secretary-General
• Ms. Cherie Blair, President, the Loomba Foundation
• Mr. Amir Dossal, Founder, Global Partnerships Forum
• Dr. Heidi Hartmann, President, Institute for Women’s Policy Research
• Lord Raj Loomba, Founder and Chairman, the Loomba Foundation
• Ms. Lyric Thomson, Senior Policy Analyst, Women for Women International
• H.E. Mr. Hardeep Singh Puri, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary and Permanent Representative of India
• H.E. Mr. Mohammed Loulichki, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary and Permanent Representative of Morocco
• Ms. Beatrice Le Fraper Du Hellen, Legal Adviser at the Permanent Mission of France
• Mr. Bertin A. Babadoudou, Coordinator of the African Group Experts of the 3rd Committee of the General Assembly, Mission of Benin
The world renowned artist Yoko Ono projects her image on the wall of the UN building to mark International Widows Day 2011.
In 2012, International Widows’ Day was marked with a public participation event on London Bridge in London. This was followed, in 2013, with a conference on the widows problem organised by the Loomba Foundation at the House of Lords, in London. Attending was UN Women’s Acting Head and Deputy Executive Director, Lakshmi Puri, Jan Grasty, head of UN Women’s UK National Committee, the ambassadors of Guatemala and Nepal, the High Commissioners of Malawi and Sri Lanka, Baroness Northover, Lead Spokesperson for the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), and Dr. Robin Niblett, the director of the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House), human rights activist Bianca Jagger and chaired by a well known BBC news television journalist, Sangita Myska. This event continued a focus by the Loomba Foundation of engaging decision makers of many years, that includes the first international conference on the widows problem held at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London on 23 June 2006 and events at the UN head quarters in New York over several years.
Cilla Black, Cherie Blair and Lord Loomba attending a Goat Walk (the first of its kind!) on London Bridge to mark International Widows Day, 2012.
In 2013, Raj Loomba called upon the Government of India to set up “Widows help Centres” through the Ministry of Panchayati Raj. In rural India most of the widows are poor and uneducated, they are often abused physically and psychologically by their families and by members of their communities. They do not know who to turn to for help.
Acting Head of UN Women, Lakshmi Puri speaking at the International Widows Day Conference at the House of Lords, London on 23 June 2013.