Last week I had the opportunity to attend the CARE National Conference in DC.  Like Ashley Binetti says in her post, the conference focused on informing the attenders and then lobbying Congress about three issues: chronic hunger, maternal health, and child marriage.  In addition to these focus areas, the session also talked about the work that CARE was doing throughout the world to fight global poverty.

I attended a session entitled “Empowering Women and Girls: Turning Rhetoric into Action” which focused on how CARE is giving women and children the tools they need to get out of poverty.  CARE’s mission is not to simply give charity to women and children fighting poverty, but to provide them with sustainable ways to get out of poverty.   They focus on three elements: agency, structures, and relationships.  The three are intertwined, and all three are necessary to help these women and children.  Without agency, the women cannot take control of a part of their lives; without changing the structures around them, the women would not be able to sustain the agency, and without forming relationships with the women, they would not have the support systems that are needed to maintain their actions.

All of this is relevant to the three areas on which CARE choose to focus their conference.  In order to sustainably develop, and fight against chronic hunger, maternal health issues, and child marriage, women need to have agency, they need to have a hand in changing the structures of the world around them, and they need to have relationships with each other that continue to empower them and future generations of women.

I choose to focus my lobby day on food security.  One-sixth of the world’s population faces chronic hunger, and the majority of those people are women and children.  Already marginalized by male-dominated systems, women tend to give up their food for children in order to keep their children healthy.  The traditional US approach to food aid was just to ship US food overseas and drop it.  CARE approaches it differently.  Rather than just giving food, CARE works to give the tools needed to cope with climate change and undependable rainy seasons, methods of storing food and stopping the erosion of the soil.  US environmental policy tends to not share technology and research if it cannot benefit the US.  Organizations like CARE work to make sure that the people who need it most are the ones who receive the benefits of the newest research.

Armed with this information, we went to the hill to talk to our Congressmen and women.  One of the representatives I spoke to, had not heard of any of the three issues before our visit, and promised to look into them and give them his attention.  Another senator signed on as a co-sponsor to the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act of 2009 after our visit.  It was a great day, full of successes, and it was great to know that we truly had an impact on Congress.

Check out CARE’s website for more information on their food security and climate change campaign, and sign up to take action to help women fight poverty around the world.