Loomba Foundation seeks recognition for widows in UN’s sustainable development agenda on its 10th anniversary

The Loomba Foundation observed its 10th International Widow’s Day on 23 June with a charity fundraiser dinner at One Great George Street near Parliament Square in Westminster, where over 250 high profile guests were in attendance, including The Loomba Foundation’s President Cherie Blair CBE QC, actress and human rights activist Bianca Jagger, Baroness Betty Boothroyd, Lord Navnit Dholakia, Lord Jim Wallace, Baroness Lindsey Northover, Virendra Sharma MP, Mr. G. P. Hinduja, Mr. Navin Jindal and several others.

The Loomba Foundation has been marking June 23 as International Widows’ Day since 2005, five years before the Day was officially recognised by the UN in 2010, which marks the fifth anniversary this year. The proceeds of the charity dinner will be used to empower 5,000 widows in the holy Indian city of Varanasi, which has an estimated 38,000 widows in total. In the first phase, The Loomba Foundation aims to provide for sewing machine and garment making training to 1000 widows and is also accepting donations online.

In his message for the occasion, Ban Ki Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, said, “On International Widows Day, let us resolve to end discriminatory attitudes and take action to ensure that widows of all ages enjoy equal human rights, including the right to shape their own future and to participate fully in society. Widows are particularly vulnerable. The death of their partner can leave them in precarious living conditions, particularly in areas of conflict, natural disaster and humanitarian crisis. The United Nations is working on specific measures that can help widows, and I urge other partners to join these efforts.”

Rt. Hon. David Cameron MP, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, also conveyed his support through his message, “The Loomba Foundation has worked tirelessly to draw attention to the plight of widows and their children while also providing economic and social support, and education to widows and their families. This is why I am a patron of the Loomba Foundation. I hope the events planned for the 10th anniversary are a great success and would like to convey my thanks to everyone who works for and supports the Loomba Foundation for the incredibly important work it does for the world’s widows and their children.”

At the occasion, The Loomba Foundation also released its 274-page-long Global Widows Report 2015, which provides an overview of the deprivation faced by widows and their children worldwide, primary causes of widowhood in developed and developing countries, challenges and proposed practical solutions. The report estimates that the number of widows in the world has gone up by 9% since 2010, and today there are nearly 258.5 million widows around the world, out of which nearly 100 million live in poverty and 81 million have had to face some sort of abuse. During 2010-2015, Middle East & North Africa are estimated to have seen the highest percentage increase of over 24% in the number of widows. In absolute terms, India, with its 46.45 million widows, has become the country with the largest number of widows, displacing China to the #2 spot (44.59 million). Over 38 million, or 14.8%, of widows still live in extreme poverty worldwide where even their basic needs go unmet, though this number has gone down by 22% since 2010. The number of children of widows has gone up by 5.7% in the last five years and today stands at more than half a billion (584.5 million), out of which 1.5 million children die before their fifth birthday.

Founder and Chairman Trustee Lord Raj Loomba CBE says, “As the quantitative numbers of widows and their children continues to swell, the qualitative living standards of widows are also deteriorating especially in regions of geopolitical conflicts, disease outbreaks or natural calamities, which is becoming a humanitarian emergency and significant violation of basic human rights. This 2015 Global Widows Report by The Loomba Foundation updates the data published in our pioneering report in 2010, and aims to help set an evidence-based agenda for global policy and achieve due recognition to the oft-ignored deprivation of widows worldwide. It is appalling to note that the largest percentage of widows of child bearing age, and the largest percentage of widows under the age of sixty, are in the 49 poorest or most underdeveloped countries identified by the United Nations as the Least Developed Countries (LDCs). Their national priorities force them to further ignore the cause of marginalized widows, which is why the strategic focus for The Loomba Foundation this year will be to try and secure specific recognition for widows in the UN’s post-2015 sustainable development agenda.”

The Loomba Foundation’s 2015 Global Widows Report argues that while the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (or MDGs), set in 2000, helped immensely in creating a single framework of economic and social development goals covering everything from reproductive health to the environment, yet it missed out on some key issues that were interlinked with individual MDGs. As a result, unfortunately, there was no focus on specific issues of widows in goals such as Gender Equality and Empowerment of women, which were overshadowed by more well-known issues.

In the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) framework likely to be finalized at a UN Summit in New York in September this year, The Loomba Foundation is advocating for clear guiding principles to set the goals so that the development issues are better addressed by allowing the inclusion of specific areas such as widow’s deprivation. The Loomba Foundation will also launch a pledge campaign to seek widespread, global public support to get recognition for the cause of widows in the SDGs.

In India, Mr. Pratap Singh, Country Head of The Loomba Foundation distributed the ‘certificates of proficiency’ to the widows and destitute inmates of Faridabad jail who have successfully completed training in garment making. The scheme was launched last year jointly by The Loomba Foundation and the India Vision Foundation to empower 120 widows/destitute women including 40 inmates in the female wards of the Gurgaon and Faridabad jails. The International Widows Day was also observed in Ludhiana district, where the first phase of empowerment project for widows in Punjab is being conducted. In partnership with the Punjab Government, The Loomba Foundation is providing free sewing machine and garment stitching training to 5000 widows in the state. Since the last 18 years, The Loomba Foundation has also been supporting education of the children of impoverished widows in India. In 2014-15, it has funded education of nearly 1700 children in 13 states of India including Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Mizoram.

International Widows Day has become a movement. It is being observed by a number of organisations in many developing countries in South Asia and across Africa.