The Loomba Foundation, a UN ECOSOC-accredited NGO which serves the cause of widows presented its World Widows Report at the Church Center for the United Nations in New York at a parallel event during the 60th anniversary meeting of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (NGO CSW60).
Launched by Founder and Chairman-Trustee, Lord Loomba, the report warns that the Sustainable Development Goals cannot be achieved unless urgent action is taken to also include the issue of upliftment and inclusive growth of poor widows. Earlier, the publication has been welcomed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, India's Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi and Dr. Robin Niblett, Director of the Royal Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House in London.
The report shows that discrimination against widows is deeply ingrained in cultures across all continents, resulting in loss of inheritance, extreme poverty, gender-based violence, child labour, discrimination against girls, increased infant mortality and numerous other severe consequences which directly affect almost a billion people around the world. Significant change in these patterns will only come about if the underlying causes are directly addressed through legislation, education and empowerment. The Loomba Foundation began addressing this omission and its World Widows Report is the first comprehensive compilation of available research about the plight of widow's country by country and worldwide. It provides governments, NGOs and international organisations with an evidentiary basis for taking effective action and creates a baseline for further research.
The launch event included a panel discussion featuring Lord Loomba, Former UK International Development Minister Baroness Northover, the report's editor Kasper de Graaf and moderated by Harjiv Singh, a Trustee of The Loomba Foundation and Founder & CEO of Salwan Media Ventures.
Speaking at the panel, Lord Loomba said, "When an earthquake, tsunami or any other natural calamity happens, the world takes notice. We can measure the number of people who are killed and the financial consequences. However, widowhood is a hidden calamity whose impact is far greater, affecting almost one seventh of humanity, yet it is largely invisible. This report is an attempt to put that right."
As long ago as 2001, UN Women said that "There is no group more affected by the sin of omission than widows. They are painfully absent from the statistics of many developing countries, and they are rarely mentioned in the multitude of reports on women's poverty, development, health or human rights."
Former UK international development minister Baroness Northover appealed for concerted action by governments, NGOs and international organizations. Describing the Report as a challenge to researchers and governments to "fill in the gaps" and improve our knowledge further, she said its showed "how the cycle of widows' deprivation entrenches the wider poverty that threatens the peace and stability of so many countries and communities; how discrimination against girls in education and employment is sustained by the plight of widows; and how widespread property theft and disregard of inheritance rights blights the lives of millions."
The Report's editor, Kasper de Graaf, outlined its main findings, which show that discrimination against widows is a deep-rooted feature of gender discrimination all over the world, though its form and impacts differ from place to place and from culture to culture - from shocking stories of child widows below the age of 10 in parts of India, and widows in some African countries forced to undergo degrading "cleansing" rituals. Deprivation however extends also to developed countries, with widows in the former Soviet Union and in the United States significantly disadvantaged compared to their peers.
The deprivation of widows has knock-on effects on future generations, depriving dependent children of education and increasing the incidence of child labor, trafficking and prostitution. Countries affected by conflict and disease take far longer to recover as a result of the unjust treatment of their widows and these factors present major obstacles to achieving some of the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals, including the aims to end poverty in all its forms everywhere, to achieve gender equality and to empower all women and girls.