LORD LOOMBA TAKES PART IN DEBATE ON THE FORTHCOMING COMMONWEALTH SUMMIT

Lord Loomba, describing the poverty, destitution and human rights abuses that many widows in the developing world face, asked the Minster, Lord Agnew, "what strategies the Government can form to help the most impoverished and disadvantaged women and girls, including widows,...?" during a debate on the Commonwealth in the House of Lords on Thursday 2nd November. Elucidating his question, Lord Loomba emphasised how good strategies can help women and girls, including widows "so that they are empowered, able to earn money, become self-reliant and lead a life of dignity ..," and also, "so that their children are educated, provided with skills training to enable them to get jobs or start their own business, gain economic independence and break the shackles of poverty.."

Welcoming the Government's aims for a summit that espouses “A Fairer Future” that cover[s] "the democratic principles that emphasise the importance of good governance, human rights and the rule of law ...," Lord Loomba said: " these are primary principles on which we should all strive to build better lives for all citizens regardless of their country of origin, their gender, religion or social status." Adding to his point, Lord Loomba stressed: "certainly, with an estimated population of nearly one-third of the world’s total population, the Commonwealth is well placed to act as a global player and catalyst for change."

Concentrating on "the women’s forum," which, he said: " is very close to my heart," Lord Loomba said: "I hope that the issue of modern slavery will be high on the agenda for the women’s forum, as it affects so many women in so many countries." " It is imperative," he stressed: "that we start to ensure that countries and societies are well placed to root out this evil and stop it from taking hold and devastating the lives of innocent and vulnerable women."

Pointing out how widows, who face "double-discrimination" are "even more burdened, discriminated against and lacking opportunities," Lord Loomba said they are often vulnerable to modern-day slavery due to their dire circumstances. Citing the Loomba Foundation's World Widows Report, which shows that there are over 258 million widows around the world, many living in destitution Lord Loomba noted that solving the issues of so many vulnerable widows will go a long way to achieving the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

The UK Government has included i n the forthcoming Commonwealth summit “A Fairer Future”, covering the democratic principles that emphasise the importance of good governance, human rights and the rule of law to which we all subscribe, and at a more prosperous future for all Commonwealth citizens. These are primary principles on which we should all strive to build better lives for all citizens regardless of their country of origin, their gender, religion or social status. Certainly, with an estimated population of nearly one-third of the world’s total population, the Commonwealth is well placed to act as a global player and catalyst for change.

I commend the Government for putting together an agenda for the four forums, as we have already heard from the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey: civil society, youth, women and business. These forums will get to the heart of core issues that have a deep impact on all of us today. I will focus on the women’s forum, which is very close to my heart. It is also deeply integrated into the other three forums.

I hope that the issue of modern slavery will be high on the agenda for the women’s forum, as it affects so many women in so many countries. It is imperative that we start to ensure that countries and societies are well placed to root out this evil and stop it from taking hold and devastating the lives of innocent and vulnerable women. Many other women’s issues are long-standing and can often be traced back to age-old, historical attitudes that have no place in our modern world.

While there may be some way of alleviating the situation of many women today who suffer injustice, inequality and sexual harassment, there is a section of women who find themselves even more burdened, discriminated against and lacking opportunities. These women are widows—women who, through no fault of their own, become victims of physical, psychological and sexual exploitation. They are often ostracised and deprived of fundamental freedoms and human rights, often leading to modern-day slavery. I declare my interest here as founder and chairman trustee of the Loomba Foundation, which recently published the World Widows Report, which has revealed that there are over 258 million widows and 584 million of their children around the world. Many of them are suffering from poverty, illiteracy, diseases such as HIV/AIDS and malaria, conflict and injustices. Sadly, their numbers are increasing because of conflict in different countries. All these issues feed into the United Nations sustainable development goals, but the ability to achieve them by 2030 is a mammoth challenge.

Can the Minister tell us what strategies the Government can form to help the most impoverished and disadvantaged women and girls, including widows, so that they are empowered, able to earn money, become self-reliant and lead a life of dignity and, likewise, so that their children are educated, provided with skills training to enable them to get jobs or start their own business, gain economic independence and break the shackles of poverty?