Decades of research leave little doubt about the vital role of women in global development. While women often bear poverty’s heaviest burdens, focused investment in that portion of the population has proved a near-surefire way to build healthier, better educated, more prosperous communities. Last month, the Global Resources and Opportunities for Women to Thrive Act (GROWTH Act, S.1425) was introduced in the Senate. This legislation is an exciting opportunity to ensure that US foreign assistance and development efforts adequately (and smartly) invest in the power of women in the developing world.

Though women comprise a disproportionate percentage of the world’s extremely poor, studies have demonstrated that women who are given extra income are more likely than men to invest it in their children, improving the family’s health, lowering child mortality and malnutrition rates, and boosting education rates. Women’s successes in the microfinance industry over the last 30-40 years have been breathtaking as well. The GROWTH Act proposes much wider administrative and financial support for such initiatives, including microenterprise, improved land and property rights for women, more access to formal employment, skills trainings, and focused investments from trade (the latter four components have been widely absent from general microfinance initiatives).

CDTD cooking class

Somali refugees attending a cooking class that will enable them to secure better jobs and earn higher wages

I’ve had the luck to witness the results of such initiatives in Kenya, and am now very much a believer in the power of women in development. I spent several months in early 2008 interning at the Centre for Domestic Training and Development, an organization led by an inspiring Kenyan woman to help other impoverished women thrive. Edith Murogo, the Centre’s founder, is a wife and mother who recognized a problem in her community and began working to solve it, raising money slowly to establish and expand her organization. Today she is one of the most well-known and respected social entrepreneurs in Kenya.

The situation Edith Murogo sought to resolve is far from unique. Domestic workers in Nairobi are generally young women—often minors—driven from their homes in rural regions (and sometimes pushed to migrate by desperate family members) due to extreme poverty, drought, a lack of education or employment opportunities, and the promise of a better life in the city. The story is the same across most of the developing world. Countless women arrive in Nairobi each day without any useful employment skills, knowledge of their rights as workers, basic education, or the ability to speak Kiswahili or English. As a result, they are stigmatized, exploited, and often verbally and physically abused.

Edith, eager to help these young women, began training and educating domestic workers in her home in 2001. Later, realizing the scale of the problem, she applied for funding from a number of groups (including USAID) to open the

Centre for Domestic Training teachers and my fellow intern, Amanda Parker

Centre for Domestic Training teachers and my fellow intern, Amanda Parker

Centre for Domestic Training and Development and reach out to more women. Her enterprise now trains and provides shelter for upwards of 100 domestic workers per month, including many Somali refugee women. The Centre teaches housekeeping and cooking skills, HIV/AIDS awareness, workers’ rights, and basic education to its students, and the women are encouraged to reimburse the organization in small installments. These young women then have the skills for transitional employment in the domestic sector, through countless girls express their desire to one day become teachers at the Centre or start similar enterprises themselves.

The success of these young girls has inspired me. Edith has become my role model, and her organization a prime example of what women in the developing world can accomplish for themselves and for others if given the opportunity. The GROWTH Act is still awaiting a Senate vote. I encourage you to voice your support for this initiative by calling your Senators and signing Women Thrive Worldwide’s petition today.

You can read more about the GROWTH Act through CARE International and Women Thrive Worldwide.