International Widows Day – Righting a WrongBy Lavina Melwani • Jun 27th, 2010 • Category: 24/7 Talk is Cheap - The Blog
Loomba Foundation Fights for the Rights of Widows
Raj Loomba was only ten years old when his father passed away but he never forgot the turbulence of that event, the way the family’s life changed when Pushpa Wati, his 37 year old mother, became a widow and had to bring up seven children. Now decades later he has taken the pain and grief of that time and turned it into something positive – a determination to help other women who find themselves in his mother’s helpless state.
The fact is that there are many women in that plight, even in the 21st century. Losing a husband is still a catastrophic event for women in many parts of the world where they become social pariahs and are often taken advantage of by family and the community.
Loomba, who has been a highly successful entrepreneur in London, created the Loomba Foundation with his brothers in his mother’s memory in 1998. Cherie Blair, human rights activist and wife of Tony Blair, the former British Prime Minister, is the president of the foundation. Over the years the foundation has raised $ 5 million for the empowerment of widows and the education of their children in India and Africa.
Cherie Blair was in New York recently with Raj Loomba and other supporters to raise awareness and push for the UN to recognize International Widows Day on June 23. The dinner at the UN which marked the fifth anniversary of the Loomba Foundation was attended by Ambassador Hardip Singh Puri and over 20 ambassadors.
Mrs. Blair released a book ‘Invisible Forgotten Sufferers: the Plight of Widows around the World’ which contains a research study commissioned by the Loomba Foundation and was presented to the United Nations. The book was authored by Vijay Dutt, who is a journalist and social commentator, as well as a Jawaharlal Nehru Fellow. The Widows Research Report was the work of researcher Risto F Harma, based on a survey by the World Public Opinion, and facilitated by the Royal Institute for International Affairs.
According to the statistics, there are 245 million widows and 500 million children affected by the loss of a father. The stigma of widowhood makes women’s lives difficult and the situation is further worsened by the added stigma of HIV in countries like India and Africa.
DID YOU KNOW?
* Over 100 million widows live in poverty, malnourished, exposed to disease and sometimes subjected to slavery.
* Widowed women experience targeted murder, rape, prostitution, forced marriage, property theft, eviction, social isolation and physical and psychological abuse.
*1.5 million children of widows die before their fifth birthday.
* Children of widows face horrors such as child marriage, illiteracy, loss of schooling, forced labor, human trafficking, homelessness and rape.
*HIV/AIDS, ethnic cleansing, armed conflict, poverty are among the most prolific causes of widowhood.
* Persecution and abuse against widows and their children is not a crisis limited to the developing world but is also in Europe, Russia and Central Asia.
* Western widows face social isolation, and commonly live with severe insecurity and poverty due to lack of affordable health care and employment.
The goal of the study is gain UN recognition for International Widows Day and to treat the exploitation of widows and their children as a human rights violation. Read more about it here.
Many of us who have lived in the Indian sub-continent have seen the social injustices meted out to widows but this happens in many parts of the world. Do you have stories to share? How would you make things better?