International Widows Day is marked on June 23 every year, and 2017 sees its 20th annversary.

This year, on the eve of International Widows Day, Joanna Lumley will launch a blimp airship and celebrate the 20th anniversary of the UN accredited global charity for widows, The Loomba Foundation. But what is International Widows Day and why is it important?

What is International Widows Day?

International Widows Day (IWD) is a globally-recognised annual day of awareness for widows and their children around the world who are suffering through poverty, illiteracy, HIV/AIDS, conflict and social injustice. In 2015 there were an estimated 259 million widows and 585 million children of widows in the world.

How did International Widows Day come about?

IWD was launched by the Loomba Foundation, a UK-based charity, at the House of Lords in 2005.  The Foundation was founded by clothing retail magnate Raj Loomba in memory of his mother, Shrimati Pushpa Wati Loomba, who brought up seven young children on her own following the death of her husband from tuberculosis.

[Read more: What is International Women's Day?]

Statistics compiled by the Foundation at the time showed 50 percent of all women worldwide are impoverished widows, and more than 60 percent of children are dependent on widowed mothers for their survival. 

When does International Widows Day take place?

IWD takes place every year on June 23. Lord Loomba chose June 23 as International Widows Day as this was the date in 1954 when his mother became a widow at the age of 37.

Is International Widows Day widely recognised?

The United Nations officially recognised June 23 as International Widows Day in 2010. 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."

The resolution, approved unanimously by the General Assembly, was introduced by Sylvia Bongo Ondimba, the First Lady of Gabon.

How can I get involved in International Widows Day?

The Loomba Foundation has a donations portal on their website; 100 percent of money donated goes directly to impoverished widows and their children.

Alternatively they run an ‘Empower a Widow’ scheme by which tools and training are given to widows with the aim of making them self-sufficient; currently widows are taught to make garments and at the completion of training are given their own sewing machine.

The Foundation also run an ‘Educate a Child’ programme, which sends children of widows to school. In 2014 1600 children were given education in India thanks to the programme.