Photo Credit: AP Photo/Jennifer Graylock
There she was. A Bangladeshi woman, who didn't have any running water and electricity in her home, holding a cell phone and touting her new thriving business, which involved renting her phone out to neighbors and relatives. I’ll never forget it. It was during the last year of the Clinton Administration in 2000. I was a CNN White House Correspondent covering then President Clinton’s trip to Bangladesh, where we saw firsthand how microfinance, small loans to women in developing countries, can lift women and families out of poverty.
I couldn’t stop thinking about that woman in Bangladesh as I covered the final day of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) in New York City -- a day devoted to programs helping girls and women around the world. I met one amazing woman after the next working to make lives better for girls and women – working to create more success stories like the one I feel so fortunate to have seen and reported on in Bangladesh.
“We need to actually… make noise for girls,” 17-year-old Juliette Musabeyezu, a Harvard freshman from Rwanda, told me. Juliette, who could be president of her country someday, is actively involved in Rwanda Girl Hub, a joint initiative of The Nike Foundation and the UK Department for International Development. The goal, Juliette said, is a movement called “Girl Effect,” spreading a message of empowerment to 600 million adolescent girls in the developing world.
“I see it as… connecting one girl to another,” the aspiring doctor told me. “We need to find that connection where girls can come and have a safe place, and talk about issues."
Juliette hopes to do that through an upcoming magazine called Ni nyampinga, which in essence means by girls and for girls. “Our program tries to give adolescents a dream so that when they become women, they become women they’re proud of,” she said. She hopes to find a way to connect American girls to their Rwandan sisters. Until then, she encourages all of us to “make noise” through Twitter, tweeting our advice to girls, using the hashtag #girleffect.
I also met Betty Kyazike who made her first trip outside of her country, Uganda, to speak at CGI. She’s a proud field manager for Living Goods, a non-profit hailed as the “Avon” of rural health, where women go door-to-door teaching families how to improve their health and selling products like soap, toothpaste and fortified foods. “What Living Goods is doing in Uganda is empowering women,” said Betty, a mother of three. Her message to American mothers? “It’s time to put things into action... It’s time to get women to act,” she said passionately, as the group’s founder, Chuck Slaughter, said his biggest hope is attracting successful American female entrepreneurs to bring their talents and resources to Living Goods.
I learned about another unique program trying to lift women up through sports called Women Win. “It’s a great strategy to actually give women the power to make better choices,” said Astrid Aafjes, the group’s founder and president. “What we learned over a long time, you can tell women to have safe sex or leave violent relationships but if they don’t have the inner power to do that, if they don’t have the skills, they stay. Sports bring life skills, self-esteem, endurance and discipline to make better decisions.”
Astrid says American women -- you! -- can help by donating directly to Women Win or throwing a party, such as a running race (cool idea!). They’ll provide the resources and you can feel good about doing something to help women -- through sports -- live a better life.
There were countless other amazing programs on display at CGI, including Shot@Life, a United Nations Foundation grassroots campaign to help provide life-saving vaccines to children in the developing world, Dow Corning announcing $5 million to find clean and toxic-free cooking solutions for families in the developing world, and The ExxonMobil Foundation granting $1.5 million to the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women to explore how mobile phone technology can help women entrepreneurs. You see, it all goes back to that woman in Bangladesh!
Finally, I learned about Landesa, which helps empower women through land rights. Consider this -- a small plot of land, sometimes as small as a tennis court, can lift a woman out of extreme poverty and can even bring an end to domestic violence. Tim Hanstad, CEO of Landesa, told me about a conversation he overheard while in India. He asked his translators what the women were saying. “They said they were saying, ‘Since we got this land, our husbands have stopped beating us,” Tim told me. He said the husbands concurred. “They said, ‘Look, we can’t kick them out... we can’t use the threat of kicking them out because they are the ones owning the land.”
Wow. All you can say is wow and what can we all do this instant to help?
Kelly Wallace is iVillage's Chief Correspondent. Follow Kelly on Twitter: @kellywallacetv