International Widows Day is the UN’s annual global day of action to address the poverty and injustice faced by millions of widows and their dependents in many countries. It takes place on 23 June.
International Widows Day was initiated by the Loomba Foundation in 2005 and officially recognised by the United Nations General Assembly, on a motion by the Government of Gabon, on 22 December 2010.
The significance of 23 June is that this is the day, in 1954, that the woman who inspired the founding of the Loomba Foundation, Shrimati Pushpa Wati Loomba, became a widow.
When the Loomba Foundation was founded in 1997, its focus initially was on relieving the desperate plight of poor widows and their children in India – and this remains a very important objective. Founder Raj Loomba soon came to realise however that this problem is by no means confined to India alone. “I was shocked to discover that widowhood was a huge problem not only in India, but across Africa,” he explained to WidowsVoice.org. “They were losing husbands through HIV, through genocide, through conflict, and they were becoming destitute. They were not looked after by governments or NGOs and they were shunned by society. It’s such a big problem, and yet nothing has been done. Nobody in the world, including the United Nations, had ever addressed the problem of widows.”
In Africa, too, the problem is more deep-rooted than current devastations like genocide and HIV. Attitudes are founded in traditions and so-called ‘customary laws’.
In 2005, Loomba Foundation president Cherie Blair launched International Widows Day at the House of Lords in London and over the next five years, the Foundation campaigned for international recognition of this day as a focus for sustained, effective, global action to bring about a radical and lasting transformation in the plight of widows. In 2006 the Loomba Foundation held an international conference on the topic at the Foreign Office in London, addressed by widows from ten countries as well as Cherie Blair, Hillary Clinton, Indian cabinet minister Renuka Chowdhury, Yoko Ono and Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon. The Foundation established offices in America and Canada and organised meetings at the United Nations, gaining the attention and support of leaders like Rwandan president Dr Paul Kagame and the former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan.
The big problem with the cause was its invisibility. Governments, NGOs, international organisations – all neglected the issue because so very little was known about it. The Loomba Foundation initiated and supported an investigative programme with writers, researchers and institutions including Chatham House and in 2010, Vijay Dutt’s Invisible Forgotten Sufferers was published with research by Risto Harma: the first comprehensive research study of the plight of widows around the world.
Backed with that hard information, support for UN recognition grew. President Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon and his wife Madame Sylvia Bongo Ondimba, threw their weight behind the campaign and on 22 December 2011, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution from Gabon officially recognising 23 June as International Widows Day.
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International Widows Day
The first International Widows’ Day was observed on 23 June 2011, providing an opportunity to give special recognition to the plight of widows and their children in order to restore their human rights and alleviate poverty through empowerment.
“On this International Widows’ Day, let us resolve to end all discrimination against the world’s widows, and to enable them to enjoy their full human rights. The benefits will extend to their children, communities and society as a whole.”
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
In December 2010, the General Assembly declared 23 June as International Widows’ Day (A/RES/65/189). The General Assembly decided, with effect from 2011, to observe International Widows’ Day on 23 June each year, and called upon Member States, the United Nations system and other international and regional organizations, within their respective mandates, to give special attention to the situation of widows and their children.