International Women’s Day 2012: Empowering Girls, Changing Futures

“Empowering girls, changing futures”: that was the theme selected for this year’s International Women’s Day.  Why?  Because when you change girls’ lives, you change their futures, you change their families futures…you could change the world.

At least, that’s the idea captured by the movement known as The Girl Effect.  And it’s an idea that has been adopted around the world; it has been promoted by organizations such as the Nike Foundation and the Population Council.  The Girl Effect argues that when you empower girls, they are able to provide better for their families.  Girls and women have come to be viewed as the agents through which we can help end poverty-~-it’s an idea championed by numerous foundations and discussed in depth in Half the Sky: How to Change the World, a bestselling book by Nicholas D Kristoff and Sheryl Wudunn.

It seems fitting that I should have discovered that this was the theme while I was sitting at work-~-I work for the Moraa New Hope Foundation in Nairobi, Kenya, on a project called Go Girl…a project which aims to change communities by teaching girls financial literacy.  It could not be any more in line with this theme if it tried to be.  And Moraa New Hope is not the only organization doing this: the Nike Foundation and other institutions like it have helped sponsor numerous organizations that are all teaching the same curriculum, working towards the same goal.

But there are a lot of things that we could be doing a lot more of to help girls and women.  Some other day, I will discuss some of them more in depth, but today, I want to talk about a couple of real success stories in the fight to help women.  If you want to know more about these issues, I urge you to read Kristoff and Wudunn’s Half the Sky or Michelle Goldberg’s The Means of Reproduction-~-they were main sources of information for me as I cobbled together this blog post:

Rwanda: One of the last countries I thought I’d be commending in my International Women’s Day post would be Rwanda; it’s pretty rare that the country is discussed in a positive way.  But the truth is that after the genocide, Rwanda was left with a shortage of men and a perception of women as less violent and more restrained, possibly better custodians for their future.  Rwanda has one of the highest proportions of women leaders around the world, and their efforts to uplift women are really impressive.  As a result, Rwanda has made substantial progress in development as well; it may be a lesson worth learning for other African countries

Sri Lanka: Maternal mortality, which is an issue I am going to discuss in the next few weeks, is a serious health issue; a woman dies every minute in the course of carrying out her reproductive functions.  In Sri Lanka, this was deemed unacceptable: Sri Lanka has developed one of the most successful public health programs to combat the problem of maternal mortality, and its efforts resulted in vast reductions in maternal mortality in the country.  Sri Lanka used its data to identify where women were NOT getting access to services and set up clinics, and trained midwives to provide additional services and refer women to doctors if there were likely to be contraceptives.  The country has saved the lives of countless women through these efforts and deserves due recognition.

The United Nations Population Fund in China: UNFPA may not be perfect, but it as Kristoff and Wudunn point out, it has one big success for which it rarely has gotten credit: namely, UNFPA forced the transition to a slightly more expensive but substantially more effective form of IUD.  This has helped to prevent countless unwanted pregnancies and their subsequent problems in either delivery or abortions.  For this, UNFPA deserves so much credit for helping women prevent pregnancies and take control of their own bodies in China.

President Barack Obama: One of the most important things that Obama did had nothing to do with the ongoing battle for women’s reproductive rights in the United States; instead, it has to do with US foreign policy.  Upon becoming president, Obama repealed what has come to be known as the Global Gag Rule, thereby refunding organizations such as Marie Stopes International that help provide critical services around the world.

The fight for the world’s women takes many forms: reproductive health, education, financial literacy, and political participation are just a few of the areas in which the battle to improve women’s circumstances is being fought.  And it is being fought around the world by amazing men and women, by organizations such as Equality Now, Women for Women International, Women’s Campaign International, the UN Population Fund, Marie Stopes International, and scores of other organizations.  And ANYONE can be a part of it.  Donate to one of these organizations; log onto Global Giving and find a project to support; help Equality Now with a letter campaign.  Give some time if you can’t give money, be an advocate if you can’t be a donor.  Be a part of the fight to help improve the circumstances of half of humanity.

And happy International Women’s Day.


**I would like to take a moment to recognize some of the women in my life working to change the world one day, one issue, and one girl at a time; these women include Roseline of the Moraa New Hope Foundation, Catherine of Carolina for Kibera, Tania Smith (American University), Abbe Ramanan (American University), Alena Stern (The College of William and Mary), Kathryn Tinker (American University), Hayley  Cavataro (University of Central Florida), Leah Fantle (American University), Ki’Tay Davidson (American University), Ilana Rice (Barnard College), all the ladies of the Harry Potter Alliance, and countless others not named here-~-you remind me, every day, that things can change and that we can change them**


~ by Randi Saunders on March 8, 2012.

5 Responses to “International Women’s Day 2012: Empowering Girls, Changing Futures”

  1. Happy International Women’s Day! Great Post! It is so interesting to read about work being done by women in Rwanda and Sri Lanka and to hear the strides being made that help build equality for women into the infrastructure, like women in government. Sri Lanka seems to be really moving forward with issues related to women’s health while here in the U.S. there are laws being passed like Arizona’s recent bill to allow doctors the right to tell a woman or not if there are complications with the pregnancy that might endanger her, in order to prevent abortion. I’m trying not to look at it like we’re going backwards.

    It is amazing the strength of women worldwide and the different voices and experience we all bring to the fight and to the celebration of women. Thanks for your post! -in Solidarity, Liza, Matrifocal Point

  2. Very useful post here. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with me. I will certainly be back.

  3. Does your blog have a contact page? I’m having trouble locating it but, I’d like to send you an email. I’ve got some ideas for your blog you might be interested in hearing. Either way, great site and I look forward to seeing it develop over time.

  4. Okay, I actually just added a contact page–hopefully that will make it easier for people to get ahold of myself and Hayley

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