23/06/2015 05:29 BST | Updated 22/06/2016 06:59 BST

How Can We Continue to Ignore One Billion People?

Today marks the tenth anniversary of International Widows Day, a global day of action I founded in memory of my own mother who was widowed 61 years ago, becoming officially recognised by the UN in 2010.

Why do we need such a day you might ask? After all, we have an International Women's Day - aren't widows also women? The answer is that, although women's rights across the world continue to gain prominence, and rightly so, the substantial issues faced by widows are still largely swept under the carpet.

There are 258million widows around the world, 115million of whom live in poverty struggling to survive. These women continue to face double discrimination not only on the grounds of being a woman but also in losing their financial security, social status and dignity when their husband dies. When a woman becomes a widow she doesn't just lose the one she loves, she often loses everything, making her and her children even more vulnerable.

What's more, worldwide each widow has an average of three children and six family members, meaning that this issue doesn't just affect 258million; the reality is that more than a billion people are disadvantaged, through no fault of their own. Devastatingly, 1.5million widows' children in the world die before their fifth birthday.

Yet, despite some progress over the past ten years, the world continues to ignore what is one of the most significant human rights issues of our time. The UN itself recognises that widows are too often absent in statistics, unnoticed by researchers, neglected by national and local authorities and mostly overlooked by civil society organisations. So how can we ignore the plight of one billion people?

Raising awareness and tackling this intersecting discrimination is at the heart of the Loomba Foundation and International Widows Day. Through our ongoing advocacy and programme work, we give women the skills they need to survive on their own and support their families.

It's easy to feel overwhelmed and, indeed, powerless by these figures. What more can we do? There's a lot we can do and we shall. We must listen to others and make their injustices our own. We must get the message out that the problems that widows face are the problems of everyone in society.

What we mustn't do is live in ignorance. For too long, the plight of widows and their families has been ignored, not talked about, not acted upon. This cannot continue. Today is an opportunity to bring our message to the millions around the world that need to hear it: the individuals and communities who continue to mistreat widows; the employers who have the power to enable widows to earn an independent living and a fair wage and the United Nations, which must insist on the eradication of this injustice.

Today, let's raise our voices together.

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