Government reaffirms support for widows campaign
In a special House of Lords debate about International Widows Day tabled by Lord Loomba on July 6, the Government expressed its continued support for the campaign to eradicate discrimination against widows through world-leading research and sharing the UK’s expertise and technical knowledge globally as part of its international women and girls strategy.
The question tabled by Lord Loomba asked what the Government has done in response to the United Nations’ International Widows Day and to empower widows to achieve economic independence in the face of continuing discrimination and prejudice affecting their opportunities and life chances as well as those of their dependants.
Noting that International Widows Day was “born in this building” when it was launched by the Loomba Foundation in 2005, and adopted officially by the United Nations in 2010, Lord Loomba gave a deeply personal account of how the experience of seeing his mother widowed when he was only ten had driven his commitment to eradicating discrimination against widows all over the world.
“Over the last 14 years, UN member states have worked to tackle the issue,” said Lord Loomba, “but the problem still affects more than 1 billion people, with more than 100 million widows and their dependants living below the poverty line.
“We can and must do much more to address the plight of widows,” he added. “We must stop treating them as a subset of gender discrimination. We must see that we are talking about the poorest of the poor, who often have no one to turn to or speak for them. We must see that widowhood, which hangs over all women, drives discrimination against girls from the day they are born, leading families to prioritise education and opportunities for sons over daughters. We must realise that without specific action on widows, we will never achieve the ambition of the UN sustainable development goals to leave no one behind.”
In a lively debate, Labour peer Lord Parekh highlighted that in India, widows’ discrimination is a cultural problem that requires revolutionary change. “To be a widow means to be not just depersonalised,” he said, “but depersoned.” Addressing the economic implications was important, but not enough.
Other contributions highlighted the global nature of the issue, with Lord Hussain (Liberal Democrat) outlining the impact on widows of laws, customs, conflict and disease in African countries; the Bishop of Exeter, The Right Revd. Robert Atwell, and Labour peer Lord Davies of Brixton both drawing attention to the disadvantages faced by many widows in the UK when it comes to pensions; and the Earl of Sandwich pointing to the plight of the widows of migrants and widows who themselves become refugees or migrants. Baroness Hussein-Ece (Liberal Democrat) drew attention to the continuing emergency faced by widows, and by all women and girls, in Afghanistan. Lord Collins of Highbury (Labour) emphasised the importance of basing policy on evidence.
In his address, Lord Loomba posed three questions for the Minister: “First, will he support a focused study of changes in legislation and attitudes in UN member countries over the last two decades to inform effective policy development? Secondly, will he support an international campaign of education and awareness based on the evidence? Finally, will he consider scheduling a debate on International Widows Day next year from the Dispatch Box?”
Responding for the Government, the Rt Hon. Lord Mott, Government Whip and Lord-in-Waiting, underlined the Government’s support for the cause and in answer to the first two questions stated that “through the international women and girls strategy, we are committed to using world-leading research to deliver quality programmes and policies for women and girls and to share the UK’s expertise and technical knowledge globally.” Acknowledging that the Government does not have a dedicated research platform on issues facing widows, Lord Mott was keen to emphasise that “we support the efforts of other researchers in this space, to help both our efforts and those of other development partners to leave no one behind.”
In response to Lord Loomba’s entreaty for a Government-sponsored debate next year, he confirmed that “it is customary for the Government to schedule a debate on this subject,” and added that “I certainly hope this will be possible next year, if parliamentary time allows.
“He has my personal support,” said Lord Mott, “and I will make sure that the Chief Whip is aware of this representation.”
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Information for editors
Lord Raj Loomba CBE is a Crossbench Peer in the House of Lords and Chairman Trustee of The Loomba Foundation, a UN-accredited specialist NGO established to alleviate the plight of widows and their dependents worldwide and to eradicate discrimination and injustice against widows.
The Loomba Foundation was established in 1997. In 2005 Lord Loomba proposed International Widows Day as a global day of action to eradicate injustice and discrimination against widows. In December 2010, after a five-year campaign, the proposal was adopted unanimously by the United Nations General Assembly and since then International Widows Day has focused worldwide attention on the cause each year on 23 June. In 2016 The Loomba Foundation published the World Widows Report – the first comprehensive global study with country-by-country information about the plight of widows, one of the most marginalised and unfairly disadvantaged groups of humanity.
Lord Loomba is Vice-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the United Nations Global Goals for Sustainable Development and a Vice-President of Barnardo’s.
To find out more about the work of The Loomba Foundation, visit