Mumbai, March 21 (IANS) The global NGO Loomba Foundation will empower 10,000 impoverished widows in India by providing them employment opportunities, enabling them to lead a life of dignity.
It will distribute a sewing machine to each widow and train them to make garments which will help them become independent as well as educate their children, Loomba Foundation president Cherie Blair said here Wednesday evening.
“Not only India, the plight of widows in several developing nations shame us,” said Blair, wife of former British prime minister Tony Blair, who is in India to appeal for help for the cause of widows.
“On International Widows’ Day (June 3), we are having a Charity Run in London, the income from which will be used for widows in India, Malawi (in southeast Africa) and Gauatemala (in central America). I firmly believe we need to empower widows to provide them a sustainable livelihood that will ultimately offer them security, emotional and economical,” Blair added.
Lord Raj Loomba, member of the British House of Lords and founder-chairman of Loomba Foundation, said widows live in pathetic conditions in India.
“Widowhood in this country brings an enormous amount of suffering – mental, economic and emotional, not to mention the verbal insult and humiliating taunts that they have to live with each day,” he explained.
Loomba called upon Indians to donate Rs.6,000 per annum, a sum that would suffice to pay for the education of a child for a year. This would help support the education of children of widows living in penury, he said.
In India, there are around 42 million widows, who comprise almost 10 percent of the population. Over 100 million children come from homes where the mother is widowed, and lives in poverty.
Till date, the Loomba Foundation, a UN-accredited NGO, has educated over 6,500 children of poor widows and supported over 27,000 of their family members.
Currently, the Foundation is educating over 2,500 children of poor widows in 16 states in India, with a monthly scholarship of Rs.500 each, for a period of five years.
In November 2012 the Foundation signed a three-year partnership agreement with UN Women, the United Nations body for gender equality and empowerment of women, to work together on three projects in India, Malawi and Guatemala to empower widows in those countries.
In order to fund these projects, the Foundation will organise the third UN-recognised anniversary of International Widows Day, June 23, at the Hyde Park, in London.
The projects in India, Malawai and Gautemala, will be managed by UN Women over a period of three years with the support of the Loomba Foundation.
The incidence of widowhood rises sharply with age, Loomba said. It is as high as 64 percent among women aged 60 and above, and 80 percent among women aged 70 and above.
However, widowhood has received very little attention as a cause of deprivation, especially in India where the experience of losing one’s spouse is overwhelmingly a female experience.
Besides, the consequences of losing one’s spouse are very different for men and women. A widower not only has greater freedom to remarry than his female counterpart, he also has more extensive property rights, wider opportunities for remunerative employment, and a more authoritative claim on economic support from his children.
According to a report by P. Adinarayana Reddy, the incidence of widowhood is as follows in India:
States in India with highest percentage of widows: West Bengal (65 percent), Karnataka (63.2), Andhra Pradesh (63.1), Tamil Nadu (60.3), Odisha (60.2) and Puducherry (67.7).
States in India with lowest percentage of widows: Nagaland (24.5 percent), Sikkim (32.1), Haryana (36.5), Mizoram (38.7) and Punjab (39.5).
The Loomba Foundation was established in Britain in June 1997 by Raj and Veena Loomba, and has sister charities registered in India and the US.
Inspired by Pushpa Wati Loomba, mother of Raj Loomba and his six siblings, who was widowed at the age of 37, it has been set up to promote the fundamental freedoms and human rights of widows.
Blair is the president of the Foundation, and Sir Richard Brandon, chairman of Virgin Group, is its patron-in-chief