My Top 5 Gifts to Empower Women and Girls
There are so many great charities that make a difference in the lives of women and girls around that world that I found it daunting to pick only five. But the ones below are organizations that are not only producing real change. A few of them I've also had personal experience with and so can highly recommend. The others I chose because of their solid reputation in the philanthropy community or because of their innovative vision.
So let's start with the International Rescue Committee.Albert Einstein founded the IRC in 1933 to assist refugees from Nazi Germany. The nonprofit group now works in more than 40 countries providing life-saving health-care to millions who've been displaced by disaster and war. In the spring of 1999, I had the experience of seeing their work up close during the war in Kosovo, when I traveled with a group of Albanian doctors and nurses from the IRC to refugee camps throughout Albania. I’ve been a huge admirer of their work ever since. (They were also just named one of top five charities by Forbes.com.) In this holiday season, when brutal conflicts in Syria, Gaza, the Sudan and other countries are forcing hundreds of thousands of families to flee their homes, it might not be much, but a donation to the IRC seems like an act of peace.
The Global Women's Leadership Network is a nonprofit organization based at the business school at Santa Clara University in California. Their mission is profound: to create a world of women leaders to lift families out of poverty and into self-sufficiency and to break down gender barriers that keep women dependent.
Imagine if you had to walk miles every day just to get water. Or that your children routinely got sick because of polluted drinking water. One of GWLN’s 2011 graduates is a remarkable woman named Gemma Bulos, who was just named one of Reuters Alertnet’s Top 10 Water Solutions Trailblazers in the world. She’s spearheading a project to deliver clean water and sanitation to rural villages in Kenya, Uganada, Last year Gemma's group taught nearly 60 women in various communities to build rainwater harvesting tanks, filters and latrines. As a result, 15,000 people in East Africa now have access to clean water.
Hurricane Sandy is long gone, but the damage and pain it inflicted on thousands of families in New Jersey and New York was catastrophic. Many families are still in shelters or other temporary housing. I can’t imagine how difficult that must be, especially for children, during the holidays when all around them people are shopping and Christmas carols are blaring nonstop. This is why I wanted to include Save the Children, the nonprofit organization that assists children in need around the world.
Save the Children has a program that specifically benefits children whose lives were swept away by Sandy. They combed shelters in New Jersey and New York to find what kids need, particularly as winter descends. Your donation could help pay for a baby crib. Or a female hygiene kit. Or a warm coat. Or that pair of new slippers you were going to give to your six-year-old.
I’m starting to get back into sewing again, although I doubt I’ll be making any prom dresses or bikinis like I did when I was 16. What does this have to do with supporting a charity during the holidays? One of the donations I’m making because of my love of sewing is $25 to Women for Women International, the nonprofit group that helps female survivors of war and other disasters rebuild their lives. That will pay for a sewing kit for a woman in Afghanistan or Kosovo or the Democratic Republic of Congo so she can learn a skill to support herself and her family. Maybe you like to garden or build things or have a relative or friend who does? How about donating $20 in someone’s name for a shovel to help a woman learn organic farming? Or $35 for a carpentry set for women in Kosovo who are learning to make a living building furniture?
Did you happen to watch the riveting two-part PBS series, "Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide," when it premiered in October? The series, based on the bestselling book by NY Times columnist and women’s rights advocate Nicholas Kristof, and his equally impressive wife Sheryl WuDunn, profiled women from 10 countries who’ve overcome tremendous hardship to transform their lives and to make a difference for women and girls in their communities. The film, as it happens, was part of Women and Girls Lead, a huge public media campaign to educate people around the world about the issues facing women and girls, ways of supporting them, and the economic power of the girl effect.
To spread its message and connect people across the globe, Women and Girls Lead is using an array of documentaries, films, television and new media, involving dozens of international groups. Right now they’re focusing on a global effort to end gender-based violence through films and programs about human sex trafficking and the escalating use of rape as a weapon of war. You can join the campaign or make a donation at Beyond the Box.
I know. This is hardly cheerful holiday stuff, and not nearly as much fun as picking out some pretty earrings or a spellbinding mystery for your daughter or your best friend. But isn’t the season about giving something lasting and meaningful, too? After all, it takes a village.