Since its foundation in 1997, The Loomba Foundation has placed great emphasis on advocacy. This has entailed organising high level conferences to highlight the condition of widows, lobbying the United Nations to have a day dedicated to mark International Widows Day, supporting research to produce the world’s only comprehensive, global report about widows’ lives, and supporting the release of a book focused on the challenges they face world over, called Invisible Forgotten Sufferers: The Plight of Widows Around the World.
However, the most important and strategic among these endeavours by far has been the Foundation’s success at having the UN mark 23 June as International Widows Day.
Launched at first by the Foundation at the House of Lords, in London in 2005, it has been marked ever since, every year, in every location where the Foundation is present to help highlight the condition of widows and empower them.
The need to commemorate widows globally
The reason the Foundation felt the need to take up having a day dedicated to widows was because it found that although there were a considerable number of NGOs and human rights organisations working to improve the condition of widows, none had been able to consolidate efforts into a broad, self-sustaining movement.
Up until 2004, The Loomba Foundation’s advocacy on widows was done as part of its fundraising events. However, it quickly became clear that a stand-alone campaign was necessary if there was to be global awareness of widows’ problems and comprehensive action to address these. This was when the Foundation decided to launch International Widows Day on 23 June 2005 coinciding with the day Lord Loomba’s mother became a widow following the death of her husband in 1954. The Loomba Foundation began to commemorate International Widows Days annually with high profile events in Kenya, Syria, and India.
The campaign had two closely intertwined goals: to focus on raising awareness among citizens and on lobbying the United Nations to adopt 23 June as a United Nations international observance day for widows. The Foundation hoped that the global recognition such a move could garner would help the world’s 245 million widows receive unmatched support for their unique condition and concerns.
The path towards marking a UN day for widows
In 2006, on 23 June, The Loomba Foundation organised an international conference on widows, held at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), in London. About 10 delegates from NGOs around the world, which were working with widows, made presentations.
In 2007, the Foundation followed up the well-covered conference with a dossier on widows presented to every United Nations representative and foreign ministers of all UN member countries. The aim was to lobby the UN to adopt International Widows Day as a United Nations observance day.
In 2009, Lord Raj Loomba began to marshal support from individual UN General Assembly countries to table a resolution for the observance of a United Nations International Widows Day. During the same year, the Foundation produced the first comprehensive global report on the deprivation faced by widows, and produced an abridged, book version in 2010, with the purpose of making a conclusive case to the UN for an observance day dedicated to the condition of widows.
The Foundation’s research report was a major achievement. No single comprehensive source of information on widows had existed until then. Global in its approach, and inclusive in scale, the report covered the world’s 192 countries with individualised, country specific data on widow numbers, and their condition.
The foundation’s first-of-its-kind report on widows
Due to the evidence the report provided, on 21 December 2010, after a five-year campaign led by the Foundation, the United Nations declared 23 June as International Widows Day at the 65th session of the United Nations General Assembly.
To further strengthen 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 and the release and publication of a book – A Hidden Calamity: The Plight of Widows – at the United Nations headquarters in New York.
The Loomba Foundation also organised a high-level conference at the UN headquarters on the condition of widows, which was attended by a distinguished panel that included senior UN representatives, ambassadors, and journalists.
In 2012, the Foundation commemorated International Widows’ Day with a public event on London Bridge in London. This was followed in 2013, with a conference on widows at the House of Lords, in London.
In 2013, Lord Raj Loomba called upon the Government of India to set up “Widows Help Centers” through the Ministry of Panchayati Raj to address the challenges faced by widows in rural India, where a majority are poor, disenfranchised, and uneducated.
And more recently, in March 2016, The Loomba Foundation’s World Widows Report was launched at the United Nations in New York by Lord Loomba, World Widows Report editor, Kasper de Graaf, UK’s former International Development Minister Baroness Northover, and Loomba Foundation Trustee Mr. Harjiv Singh.