Women Hold Up Half the Sky

A series of articles published recently by the New York Times highlights the problems women face in developing counties.  Given my personal interest in development work (check out the group I work with: www.friendsofpenyem.com) and having worked with CARE as the ZOOMA Women’s Race Series charity partner in 2008, I was struck again by the different world that some of our poorer sisters inhabit.  For example:  (a few facts from The Women’s Crusade in the New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/23/magazine/23Women-t.html?pagewanted=1&em# )

·         The phenomenon of “missing girls” in countries like India and China exists because sons are more highly valued for various cultural reasons.  Basically, families chose to abort female fetuses, or don’t offer the same medical care to their young daughters, leading to somewhere between 60 and 107 million missing women in the world today (based on sex ratios).

·         The chance that a woman will die during childbirth in some poor countries is as high as 1 in 7. This is partly because maternal health is just not a priority for governments and aid programs.

·         Only one percent of the world’s landowners are women.

Every once in awhile I get a question (usually from a man) about why I started a race series for women – why not co-ed?  It has taken me some time to be able to clearly explain why I feel so strongly that we need these races, races that are all about women.  Women play a special role in society, and not just U.S. society.  Women and men are not exactly the same in every way.  Each has something unique and important that we add to our communities and our families.  To me, women are leaders.  Where women are fit and healthy, their families are fit and healthy.  Where women are confident and capable, so are their children.  Where women are balanced, so are those around them.  Not only is ZOOMA fun-as-can-be, it also serves an important purpose – it is helping women to help themselves (by living active lifestyles), which has the exponential effect of helping everyone.

There’s good news in women’s development work, too.  While the majority of aid dollars spent don’t lead to any real change, studies show that aid to women in poor countries is some of the most effective aid spent by donor governments and NGOs.  Microfinance programs, whereby women are offered low interest loans to start businesses, are changing families and communities.  Where women are educated, empowered, and given a chance to thrive, they do!  And they share their own success with their families and their communities.  It’s been proven over and over again.

I believe that, as human beings, we should feel solidarity with humans around the world.  And, as women, we should feel a special link with women around the world.  As women lucky enough to have been born citizens of a safe and secure nation, I believe we have a responsibility to educate ourselves about what is happening with our sisters born in other parts of the world, and we have a responsibility to tell others and to do what we can to raise them up.

What can we do?  Here are a few groups that I personally support and that are doing great things for women:

CARE  (www.care.org) is a leading global poverty-fighting organization, placing “special focus on working alongside poor women because, equipped with the proper resources, women have the power to help whole families and entire communities escape poverty.”  I am always moved by the amazing videos on CARE’s site: http://www.care.org/features/videogallery.asp

Kiva (www.kiva.org) is a funding organization for microfinance groups around the world.  You put in a set amount of money (as little as $25) and you can choose the individual or group you would like your money to go to.  When the loan has been repaid, you can take your money out of Kiva or you can loan it to a new individual or group.  Most of the loan recipients are women, and microfinance is an awesome and empowering vehicle for change.  This is a super-fun, hands on way to do philanthropy, and could be fun for kids, too, I think.

There are plenty of ways to get involved helping women around the world.  If you have other groups you support, please leave their names and contact info in the comment section below.

As the saying goes, “Women hold up half the sky.”  Sometimes we may have to stand a little taller to hold up our half until our poorer sisters can reach on their own.