The loss of a spouse isn’t merely painful on an emotional level. It can also disrupt a person’s life in many ways. Becoming a widow can mean struggling financially, trying to raise children on your own, overcoming societal barriers, and much more.
You can do plenty to help someone in this situation. Even giving someone a few books for surviving spouses can help a friend or loved one better understand how to adapt to this major life change.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What Is International Widows’ Day?
- When Does International Widows’ Day Take Place Every Year?
- How Do People Acknowledge International Widows’ Day?
However, it’s also important to support not only the widows we may know personally but widows in general, supported by International Widows Day.
What Is International Widows Day?
International Widows Day is a United Nations day of awareness. It serves to reveal the various injustices widows experience, as well as what individuals and governments can do to help solve these problems.
International Widows Day has a different “theme” each year. The theme always relates to a specific goal, such as promoting gender equality.
The United Nations observed the first official International Widows Day in 2011. However, the story of the U.N.’s involvement with International Widows Day actually begins on December 21, 2010.
On this day, during the United Nations’ 65th General Assembly, Ali Bongo Ondimba of the Republic of Gabon gave a speech in which he listed the many ways that widows throughout the world struggle. Along with touching on the poverty that one out of every 10 widows must endure, he also spoke of the way some communities ostracize widows.
Ondimba explained how the essential social structure of these communities and societies allows the mistreatment of widows and in order to address their struggles, leaders throughout the world must directly and consciously work toward systemic changes.
Ondimba presented the idea of International Widows Day as a means to spread awareness of this issue annually and International Widows Day became officially observed.
Although President Ondimba suggested International Widows Day to the U.N., the main group responsible for organizing it is the Loomba Foundation. This U.K.-based charity’s founder, Raj Loomba, started the Loomba Foundation in honor of his mother, who raised him and his six siblings by herself after his father’s passing.
Growing up in India exposed Loomba to the harsh realities of life for many widows. Although treatment of widows can vary from one country and culture to another, in India, Loomba saw that widows may receive particularly harsh treatment. For example, it’s not uncommon for community members to blame a widow for the death of her husband, regardless of whether she actually bears any responsibility. Some also perceive widows as being bad luck, so they get cut off from the rest of the community.
Widows in India may also face legal and financial woes. Often, they lose their property and wealth after a spouse’s death. Many can’t find employment.
Loomba and his wife started the foundation to support these widows. Although their initial goal was primarily to support widows in India, as they pursued the foundation’s goals, they realized that widows experience similar treatment in many other countries. The specific injustices they face may vary, but in general, widows encounter many challenges.
Loomba realized the foundation must focus on supporting widows throughout the world. He spoke of his mission in a speech before the House of Lords in May 2005 and announced the start of International Widows Day.
That’s an important point. As an official U.N. observance, International Widows Day has only been around since 2011. However, as far as The Loomba Foundation is concerned, the first International Widows Day took place in 2005. As the movement caught the attention of various world leaders, the idea finally reached the U.N.
When Does International Widows Day Take Place Every Year?
International Widows Day takes place on June 23 each year. Raj Loomba started his foundation in memory of his deceased mother and he chose June 23 as the date for International Widows Day — the date his mother became a widow.
Here are the dates for International Widows Day for the next few years:
2021: Wednesday, June 23
2022: Thursday, June 23
2023: Friday, June 23
2024: Sunday, June 23
2025: Monday, June 23
How Do People Acknowledge International Widows Day?
The ways in which people acknowledge International Widows Day varies depending on their occupation, means, age, and many other factors. Some observances of International Widows Day take the form of official events. Others are more personal steps individuals take to support the cause. These are merely a few noteworthy examples:
Again, the primary purpose of International Widows Day is to spread awareness. That’s why many acknowledge this day by reading more about the topic.
The U.N. helps by sharing stories of women who’ve worked with the U.N. to help support widows across the globe. Their personal insights could inspire others to join the cause.
In various parts of the world, many widows struggle because they actually don’t know much about their rights. They grew up in patriarchal societies, where men were more likely to receive an education, and as a result, when their husbands died, they didn’t know how to navigate their new circumstances.
One of the main goals for International Widows Day activists is to correct this problem by reaching out to widows to teach them about their rights, direct them to employment opportunities, and more. While these activists work toward this goal all year long, International Widows Day is a particularly important observance, giving them an opportunity to spread the message of their cause and enlist more help.
Once more, the problems many widows face often stem from entrenched societal injustices.
Addressing these injustices requires changing a country’s laws in many instances. Because of this, some use International Widows Day to petition governments to make the necessary improvements, and to urge others to do the same.
International widows day dinner
Most years, the Loomba Foundation will hold a charity dinner at the House of Lords on or around International Widows Day.
Each dinner features speakers discussing specific topics relating to the difficulties widows face. This ensures major lawmakers and world leaders remain aware of these issues and take action to address them.
This particular activity may not be a part of International Widows Day every single year. However, it was such an important part of the first International Widows Day that it deserves a spot on this list.
In 2005, on the date of the first International Widows Day, Raj Loomba and London schoolchildren gathered at Tower Bridge and released 1,000 multicolored balloons to mark the beginning of the movement. In countries like India and South Africa, similar demonstrations took place.
Not everyone is in a position to tackle the plight of widows on a global scale. However, you can still acknowledge International Widows Day by supporting any widows you personally know.
If you know someone who has recently become a widow, you could use this opportunity to point them in the direction of support groups for widows or simply check in on them, for example.
Other small but significant steps you can take to support widows on International Widows Day may involve learning more about the topic.
Specifically, you might focus on learning about the topic in a way that equips you with actual knowledge you can apply in a direct and practical way.
Once again, maybe you personally know a widow whose spouse recently passed. If so, you might spend International Widows Day reading up on the stages of grief for a widow. This can help you better understand what they’re going through.
You can also use International Widows Day to educate others. You could bring up the topic in discussions with family or friends, share valuable information about the struggles of widows on social media, or even organize your own community event featuring speakers familiar with relevant topics. If you wished (and got the necessary permits!) you could also organize a small balloon releasing ceremony like the one Raj Loomba and the schoolchildren held on the first International Widows Day.
The organizations promoting the rights of widows throughout the world rely on the financial support of donors and some lend a hand on International Widows Day by donating to such charities.
International Widows Day: Shining a Light on an Overlooked Problem
Knowing how to move forward after losing a spouse is already challenging. It’s even more difficult when you face societal oppression. Thanks to the activists behind International Widows Day, that’s one challenge that widows may not have to face forever.
- “Cherie highlights widows' plight.” BBC, BBC, 25 May 2005, news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/4580323.stm
- “Invisible Women, Invisible Problems.” United Nations, United Nations, www.un.org/en/observances/widows-day
- “Origins of a Global Campaign.” The Loomba Foundation, The Loomba Foundation, www.theloombafoundation.org/our-work/advocacy/international-widows-day/origins