International Widows Day

International Widows Day takes place annually on 23 June to address the “poverty and injustice faced by millions of widows and their dependents in many countries”. International Widows Day was established by The Loomba Foundation to raise awareness of the issue of widowhood. The significance of 23 June is that it was on that day in 1954 that Shrimati Pushpa Wati Loomba, mother of the foundation’s founder, Lord Loomba, became a widow. The first International Widows Day took place in 2005 and was launched by Lord Loomba and the foundation’s president, Cherie Blair. By the sixth International Widows Day in 2010, events were held in Rwanda, Sri Lanka, the United States, the UK, Nepal, Syria, Kenya, India, Bangladesh and South Africa. On 21 December 2010, the United Nations General Assembly formally adopted 23 June as International Widows Day, endorsing by unanimous acclaim a proposal introduced by President Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon. As well as formally recognizing 23 June as a day of observance, the accompanying resolution called upon “Member States, the United Nations system and other international and regional organizations to give special attention to the situation of widows and their children.”

One of the foundation’s key goals is to highlight what it deschjribes as an invisible calamity. A 2010 book, Invisible, Forgotten Sufferers: The Plight of Widows Around the World, estimates that there are 245 million widows worldwide, 115 million of whom live in poverty and suffer from social stigmatization and economic deprivation purely because they have lost their husbands. As part of the Loomba Foundation’s awareness campaign, this study was presented to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on 22 June 2010.

The Loomba Foundation was set up by philanthropist, Liberal Democrat peer, founder and executive chairman of clothing company Rinku Group, and a member of the House of Lords.Rajinder Paul “Raj” Loomba, Baron Loomba, CBE. Raj Loomba was born in Dhilwan, in the state of Punjab, India. He was educated at D.A.V. College, Jallandhar and at the State University of Iowa; his family moved to England in 1962. Loomba built up his fashion business from scratch, graduating from a stall at Widnes market to a shop, a wholesale business and then an import company, Rinku Group Ltd. The company has over 200 retail concession outlets in the UK, offices in London, Delhi and China, and supplies major retail groups.

Loomba is a member of the Rotary Club in London, the Institute of Directors and is a Freeman of the City of London. He is Chairman of the Friends of the Three Faiths Forum, is Patron of Children In Need India, and is the Founding Patron of the World Punjabi Organisation. He is Vice President of Barnardo’s and of the Safer London Foundation, a charity backed by the Metropolitan Police. In 1997 he was named Asian of the Year UK by Asian Who’s Who International. Loomba is married to Veena Chaudhry, with whom he has two daughters and one son. He has become well known for his fundraising and campaigning concerning the issue of widowhood in the developing world. His mother, Shrimati Pushpa Wati Loomba, was widowed at the age of 37 in India, and Loomba experienced first-hand the social and economic discrimination that widows in that country faced.

Loomba set up The Loomba Foundation in his mother’s memory. The Loomba Foundation works to raise awareness of the issue of widowhood and it raises funds to educate the children of poor widows in India and empower widows in other developing countries in south Asia and across Africa. The flagship of the charity’s awareness campaign is International Widows Day, which takes place annually on 23 June, the anniversary of his mother’s widowhood. Following a sustained campaign, on 21 December 2010 the United Nations General Assembly formally recognised, by unanimous acclaim, 23 June as International Widows Day. In recognition of his contribution to charity, in the 2008 Birthday Honours Loomba was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).

On 12 January 2011 Loomba was ennobled as a life peer with the name, style and title of Baron Loomba, of Moor Park in the county of Hertfordshire. He took up his seat in the House of Lords on 13 January 2011, representing the Liberal Democrats.[He was introduced to the House on 17 January 2011, supported by the Lords McNally and Dholakia. On 21 January 2011 he gave his maiden speech in the House during a debate on the Rehabilitation of Offenders (Amendment) Bill. In December 2016 Loomba left the Liberal Democrats and now sits as a non-affiliated Peer. Explaining his decision he said: “I now wish to concentrate on issues such as human rights, gender equality, education and above all the United Nations’ 2030 Sustainable Development Goals”.

Loomba’s company, Rinku Group PLC, had previously made a donation of £2,500 to the leadership campaign of Nick Clegg in December 2007. His nomination to the peerage attracted controversy after it emerged that one of the three members of the House of Lords Appointments Commission who approved his appointment, Liberal Democrat peer Lord Dholakia, had accepted six overseas trips in the previous four years, paid for by Loomba’s charitable foundation, the Loomba Trust.

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