Global Girl Power
One out of every three women worldwide will suffer physical or sexual abuse this year. Violence against women is a major cause of poverty; it keeps women from getting an education, working, and earning an income. Natural Solutions talks to Ritu Sharma—president and co-founder of Women Thrive Worldwide (womenthrive.org), a Washington, DC–based nonprofit that advocates for women’s rights around the globe—about how her organization empowers women to escape violence and end poverty.
NS: How did you get involved in international women’s justice issues by way of Capitol Hill?
RS: I realized I had a unique and rare gift as an American—I have the power to reach government decision makers who will listen to me. You don’t need a lot of money, just a strong argument to get a bill passed in Congress.
NS: How does empowering women help end poverty?
RS: Violence prevents mothers from taking care of their families, which traps generations in a cycle of poverty. Our research shows that ending violence against women helps lift, not just women, but entire communities out of poverty because women spend their income on food, healthcare, and education for their children.
NS: What life-changing results have you seen?
RS: The women in Lesotho, a country in Africa, had been pushing to get a bill passed for 10 years to grant them full legal rights. Women couldn’t open a bank account, get a loan, or obtain rights to material assets—everything had to be in their father’s, husband’s, or son’s name. Women Thrive brought this to the attention of a US government aid program that agreed to help. In early 2007 the women of Lesotho were granted economic independence.
NS: What can American citizens do to help?
RS: Write to Congress. This method seems old-fashioned, but it’s effective. Gather a group of friends, and write letters about why you care about this issue. Spend 15 minutes writing the letters and the rest of the evening socializing with girlfriends.
NS: What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned from working with these women?
RS: They are not poor. They are beautiful, strong, resourceful, and creative—they are rich. No one should ever treat them as the impersonal “poor.” They have life stories, lost loves, children, and dreams. All they want is a chance to help themselves. If we give them a start, they can do the rest.
NS: What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
RS: Do what you love, and the money will come. After college, I debated whether to pursue social justice work or international banking. I decided to go for what I thought I’d love, and I’ve never looked back. The money has come too; I make a good living doing the work I feel I am here to do.