The Shriver Report – #BringBackOurGirls – How to Help Women Around the World

Special Edition

#BringBackOurGirls – How to Help Women Around the World

BringBackOurGirls-1Most of the time it’s the problems of mothers here in the United States that absorb my attention.  Heaven knows we don’t have it easy, as we step carefully on the razor’s edge between loving our children and giving our best at work.

We are, quite literally, working without a safety net, right here in the world’s largest economy, and the only industrialized nation, without guaranteed paid leave for new moms and dads.  No back up child care.  No paid sick days for all, especially those in food service, or others with frequent public contact.  No mechanism to make sure pregnant workers are treated fairly.  It’s a full time job, dragging our policies into the 21st century.

But every once in a while, I lift my eyes up and look farther away on the horizon.  It’s the news from Nigeria that concerns me now.  What’s happening to those young teens, stolen in the night from their school, now held hostage, scared, threatened, cut off from their families.

I’m reminded again of what I learned from Half the Sky; Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, by Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, about the precarious and often painful lives of those born female around the world. I resolved to put a bit of my attention on global women’s issues, to follow a few organizations, contribute to a few causes. So I did. If the abduction of hundreds of girls an ocean away makes you feel you must do something, you might want to do the same.

I became a sponsor at Women for Women International and supported their efforts to help a woman survivor of war rebuild her life. With emotional counseling, job-training, and financial assistance, even after terrible trauma, a mother can regain the ability to take care of herself and her family. Women rarely wage war, however they and their children certainly bear the consequences of it. I sent a very small check off every month, with a prayer of gratitude that my children didn’t sleep with the sound of shelling and rocket fire.

The Fistula Foundation treats women injured in childbirth, which is a common problem in rural areas of poor countries, especially sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. As a result of protracted labor or sexual violence, an opening may develop between the vagina and other internal organs, resulting in constant incontinence. Rather than being cared for, women with this condition are typically ostracized, rejected by their families, isolated and suffer greatly. A simple surgery can totally correct the condition, at a cost of about $450 for the operation and follow up care in the hospital. The cost efficiency of that still strikes me – you can give a woman her life back for the cost of two iPhones. It’s very nearly an offer you can’t refuse. If you and 10 friends put in $40 each, you’ve done it.

Another favorite philanthropy of mine is Kiva. You get to pick a country, a person, or a kind of business to receive a micro loan. You give whatever you want – I gave $25, once, about 3 years ago. Lots of other donors give similar loans, and your recipient finances their enterprise. You get regular updates about how much is being paid back, and when your loan is completely repaid, you can have it back or loan it out again. I have loaned that same $25 about 7 times now, selecting mothers managing small enterprises to improve their communities and support their children, in far flung places all over the world, which I may never see. It’s great.

All you need to reach out to another woman is a computer and little bit of scratch. I’ll invest in women every time, and I’m not rich, or anything even remotely out of the ordinary. I just got really mad after reading Half the Sky about the atrocities inflicted upon my gender around the world.

If the horror of the Nigerian abduction makes you howl, think about striking back. The Half the Sky Movement has a page dedicated to #BringBackOurGirls, if you want to target your outrage. Use some of my causes if you like, or find your own favorites.

We have to protect each other, always. We are the ones we count on.

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Valerie Young is a Reporter for The Shriver Report.
Valerie Young represents the National Association of Mothers' Centers (NAMC) and its netroots public policy MOTHERS Initiative in Washington, D.C. She is an advocate for recognition of mothers’ contributions to our national welfare and a proponent of economic security and independence for those who care for family members. Trained as an attorney, Valerie analyzes state and national legislative action through the lens of motherhood, educating policy makers and others who work on issues pertinent to women. Valerie advises on developments in the political arena, demystifying the political process and encouraging the personal activism of mothers and other family caregivers.
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