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Hi, I’m Lisa – the new Global Environment intern here at Americans for Informed Democracy.

Yesterday morning I had the opportunity to attend a breakfast briefing celebrating International Women’s Day. The breakfast was organized by Women Thrive Worldwide and UNIFEM to educate policymakers and private sector leaders about successes and challenges facing women in Afghanistan and Haiti. Speakers included The Honorable Maria Otero – Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs, Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Ines Alberdi – Executive Director of UNIFEM, Kathy Mongones – UNIFEM Haiti Program Coordinator, Suraya Pakzad – Founder of Voice of Women in Afghanistan, and Ritu Sharma – President and Co-founder of Women Thrive Worldwide.

The take away message was clear: it’s time to make women’s empowerment a central focus of U.S. foreign policy. But how do we do this? According to Ritu Sharma, you listen.

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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.

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