Widows in developing countries should be given greater support to save them from poverty, Cherie Booth QC has said.
Cherie: 'It's vital to support impoverished widows'
The prime minister's wife has named 23 June International Widows Day to highlight the injustices faced by widows across the world.
The day is being organised by The Loomba Trust, a UK-based charity committed to educating at least 100 children in each of India's 29 states.
The Trust champions the rights of widows, including those hit by HIV.
It says widows in many developing countries face real hardship and bring up their children in poverty. The Trust is trying to help remove the stigma associated with losing a husband.
Ms Booth said: "Millions of women throughout the world find themselves impoverished and isolated by the death of their husband and it is vital that we do whatever we can to support them and raise awareness of their plight.
"The stigma and low status of widows in developing countries often leads to children living in real poverty.
"International Widows Day will help the Loomba Trust and others secure a better future for poor widows and their children."
The Loomba Trust was founded by 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.
Mr Loomba chose 23 June as International Widows Day as this was the date in 1954 when his mother became a widow at the age of 37.
The Loomba Trust educates more than 2,000 children of widows across India and expects to give lessons to at least 100 children of poor widows in each of the 29 states of India by 2007.
Mr Loomba said: "Millions of widows and their children are the poorest of the poor, often invisible, forgotten and unheard.
"The dramatic rise in the numbers of widows is often caused by unsuitable working conditions, poor nourishment medical care and hygiene, and it is exacerbated by armed conflict, ethnic cleansing, HIV and Aids.
"In any countries across Africa, Asia and elsewhere, widows can lose their human rights, land and property, and can be exposed to violence and abuse.
"When the husband dies, the widow often loses her legal status and financial support."
The Loomba Trust says its statistics suggest 50% of all women are impoverished widows and more than 60% of children are dependent on widowed mothers for their survival.