WOMEN THRIVE WORLDWIDE
SHAPING U.S. POLICY TO ERADICATE GLOBAL POVERY
BY PROTECTING AND EMPOWERING WOMEN
Women Thrive Worldwide is an award winning advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. that, for the last twelve years, has been tirelessly fighting to improve the lives of women in developing countries. It's overarching goal is no less than to eradicate global poverty, and women are the centerpiece and the key to surmounting this monumental challenge. Why women? Women are traditionally the caretakers – the lifeblood of their homes and their communities. When women are lifted out of poverty and given greater economic opportunities, the benefits for a healthier, more productive life, which include food, shelter, education and healthcare, accrue not only to their families but to the entire community for the long term. “When you teach a woman to fish, everyone eats” is the oft repeated phrase which is the touchstone of the campaign.
FIVE KEY POLICY AREAS ARE CENTRAL TO THE WOMEN THRIVE CAMPAIGN
Led by dynamic and impassioned co-founder and President, Ritu Sharma, Women Thrive Worldwide has, since its inception in 1998 (known then, as Women’s Edge Coalition), worked with a network of policy strategists and volunteers and consulted with hundreds of women’s organizations on the ground in developing countries to glean the information that been instrumental in shaping U.S. policy — policy that will have the greatest impact on reducing poverty by empowering women. The five primary policy foci are in Farming and Agriculture, Foreign Aid Assistance Reform, Economic Opportunity, Violence Against Women and International Trade.
A detailed description of the five policy areas as well as the organization’s encyclopedic accomplishments can be viewed here.
THE BEGINNINGS: WOMEN’S EDGE COALITION
Women Thrive Worldwide began in 1998 as Women’s Edge Coalition, a nonpartisan group of NGOs, which Sharma co-founded to advocate for human rights and economic policies to help women through the globe end the cycle of poverty for themselves, for their communities, and for their nations.
In addition to shepherding the passage of landmark legislation to help women living in the world’s the poorest countries (1) ,Women’s Edge Coalition, in 2005, joined with Amnesty International USA, members of the U.S. Senate, and numerous other NGOs to draft the ground breaking International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA), which was introduced initially in 2007, by Senators Joe Biden and Richard Lugar. This early incarnation of the bill provided for unprecedented support to survivors of sexual violence around the globe. Reintroduced later by Senators John Kerry and Barbara Boxer, among others, as Senate Bill 2982 (H.R. 4594), the International Violence Against Women Act of 2010, in its current rendition, makes the eradication of violence against women a diplomatic priority that extends across foreign policy and assistance programs.
Today, IVAWA is the central focus of a national campaign led by Women Thrive Worldwide and it’s collaborators, Amnesty International USA and the Family Violence Protection Fund to end violence against women worldwide. IVAWA has widespread bipartisan support, and the hope is that it will pass in this November’s lame duck session.
My commitment, my work, is to make sure that when I have granddaughters,
they …..don't have to think for a moment about being violated.
In 2008, Women’s Edge Coalition became Women Thrive Worldwide, and continues to represent the 50 plus organizations and 40,000 individuals united in the belief that empowerment of women is the key to combating world poverty.
RITU SHARMA: IN HER OWN WORDS
Ritu Sharma’s inspiration for Women’s Edge Coalition and Women Thrive Worldwide was born of poverty and violence; her compelling account of how she moved from a painful childhood to become a renowned advocate for women in developing countries, is a story of extraordinary strength, courage, determination and hope, that resonates with women and men all over the world.
Sharma has been heralded as a leading voice on women's issues as they relate to U.S. foreign policy . In this Question and Answer session with the Action Now+Network, Sharma describes her experience, her inspiration, her desire from a very young age to help women and their communities around the world lift themselves beyond their individual and economic barriers.
ACTION NOW+NETWORK: What inspired you to create this organization?
RITU SHARMA: I was born in Arizona to a family of immigrants from India; both my parents came from pretty poor backgrounds. My family left behind generations of violence and poverty in Punjab, India to build a new life in the United States.
Both of my parent's families have witnessed some incredible violence, especially my father's family. His father was an alcoholic and a very violent man. My dad has told me some really heralding stories about what happened to his sisters and his cousins. My Dad lost his mother when he was just a year old. She was married when she was fifteen and she had a baby every year until she was about twenty-one. When she was pregnant with her seventh child, she had a back street abortion and died within 24 hours. My Mom's Mom was an educated woman, which was very unusual in the 1930's in India. She had a masters degree and suffered from a very deep depression. When my Mom was about seven years old, my grandmother committed suicide by pouring kerosene on herself and lit herself on fire. My Mom witnessed this event, and it had a huge impact on her life. From either side of my family there was a very intense history around women and what happened to them.
I myself became a violence survivor at a very young age.
I grew up just knowing that I wanted to do something about this to make a difference. My family’s legacy and my first-hand experience of the injustices suffered by women, combined with my strong belief that American citizens must ensure that the U.S. acts positively in the world, led me to create Women Thrive Worldwide in 1998.
While in high school, I had the opportunity to go to an international school in Wales called the United World College of the Atlantic. There I interacted with students from all over the world and had the chance to see how they viewed Americans, both positively and negatively. I came to understand that our country had a huge impact on the rest of the world – in ways that other countries don’t. That was eye opening. After I came back home to the states in Washington D.C. to study at the university, I just fell in love with Washington and politics and the whole intrigue of the place. Through internships, work experiences and friendships, I realized this is a place where people are here to change what our government does and they're successful at it. I knew this is where I wanted to be and what I wanted to do.
A.N.N. How does Women Thrive define its current mission?
R.S.: At Women Thrive, we believe that giving women greater economic opportunity will lift families, communities, and countries out of poverty. When women are healthy and free from violence they are better able to take care of their family and household, and they have a positive impact on their communities.
Our mission is to provide solutions that will help millions of women around the world to escape poverty, by advocating for changes in U.S. policy that will have the greatest impact on them.
A.N.N. How would you summarize your own work with the organization?
R.S. : Since the creation of Women Thrive Worldwide, I have taken a leadership role in advocating for U.S. policies that foster economic opportunities, and defend the rights of women in developing countries, guiding the organization in its mission. Thanks to our advocacy, gender and women are seen more and more as central to the success of U.S. global development efforts. .
One of my most important efforts is the attempt to push the International Violence against Women’s Act (I-VAWA) through Congress, which aims to promote women's economic opportunity, address violence against women, and work to change public attitudes. It took 4-5 years to develop the bill. Women Thrive, together with Amnesty International USA and the Family Violence Prevention Fund, worked closely with members of Congress and attracted hundreds of NGO’s, UN agencies and women’s groups around the globe to provide consultancy in drafting it. I-VAWA was introduced to the House and the Senate in February of this year.
A.N.N. : What makes Women Thrive different from other advocacy organizations out there?
R.S.: At Women Thrive, we believe that while direct assistance programs for the poor are very important, positive policy change is crucial for long term change.
If U.S. assistance and trade policies do not address the unique barriers that women face, they will not reach the women who need them and will be only half as effective as they could be. This is what we do. By prioritizing women in programs, the U.S. is already running – often by changing a few words in a piece of legislation – we try to spread opportunity to millions of women and families living in poverty, and help end poverty for good.
There are lots of service providers running programs on the ground. We're the only ones focusing in D.C. full time on advocacy. It's complementary to helping one woman at a time….we try to shape policies and the debate around the issues that impact millions of women.
A.N.N. Tell me about the professional staff at your organization.
R.S.: Women Thrive has a team of 17 talented people represented by policy and government affairs professionals, global trade and agricultural policy specialists, global advancement, organizational advancement, and communications and outreach professionals – all very dedicated to our mission.
A.N.N.: What do people tell you they admire most about your organization?
R.S.: We’re a small organization, but get big results. We influence some very big players and very big amounts of money.
A.N.N.: The concept of global poverty can be very abstract. How do you get people to feel an emotional connection to your work?
Through personal stories. Every year I travel to a country in Africa, Central or South America and I walk in the shoes of a local woman and farmer who lives on less than a dollar a day. This is called “A Dollar a Day Diary”, and is published on our website shortly after my return from the country. This is our way to bring awareness of the poverty and living conditions of women in developing countries, and to convey a powerful message that justifies all of our efforts. There isn’t a more compelling and emotional way to explain why we do what we do.
A.N.N.: What challenges does Women Thrive Worldwide face?
R.S. The biggest challenge we are facing is the current system that governs the way we deliver our aid around the world. It was developed in 1961 and the world was a lot different back then. This was before climate change and the Aids epidemic, both of which transcent borders. Our world is a much smaller place than it was in 1961. A lot of our aid is designed in government buildings in Washington D.C. rather than in the communities that we are trying to help around the world. There are many good people that work in government aid, but their hands are tied; they don't have the flexibility to go to these communities and ask people what they need. We are currently working with other organizations to modernize this whole system to make the system more responsive to the people we are trying to help.
A.N.N. : What are the most important things you want the public to know about your organization?
We’re small and impactful. We're strategic. We get results. We're the only ones doing what we do. We're team players: our strategy is based on a partnership model.
A.N.N.: How can the public get involved in your mission?
R.S. The public can take action in different ways:
First they should sign up for our monthly newsletter to receive updates, actions, and the latest news on how they can help. Additionally, they can:
- Make an online donation.
- Tell their representative to support the GROWTH Act, an innovative bill that would give women the economic tools to lift themselves out of poverty.
- Sign the International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA) online petition.
- Shop the Cause. Supporters can shop the products such as jewelry and handicrafts, made by three trade partners who live up to our values – all products are made by women in poor countries and all sales directly benefit them. Ten percent of the purchases support Women Thrive’s advocacy work on behalf of these women.
- Become a delegate – Women Thrive frequently organizes in-state delegations and other events.
- Organize friends and host an event. Please contact Lorelle Curry, U.S. Outreach Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org
A.N.N. Is there work available for volunteers?
R.S. We do have interns in our team who support the different departments. Women Thrive Worldwide also welcomes volunteers on a case-by-case basis. For example, September 28 was the premiere of the documentary “Tapestries of Hope”, which Women Thrive sponsored. Due to the efforts of our volunteers, who collected petition signatures from the audience, Women Thrive was able to expand its supporter network, and more specifically, to gain additional support for the passing on I-VAWA.
A.N.N. Who are some of your most well-known supporters?
R.S. Ashley Judd and Kathy Najimy. Corporate CEOs like Joe Keefe (Pax World Funds).
A.N.N. Do you have any specific campaigns or promotions upcoming?
Yes, “Dollar a Day” campaign for 2010. (See video clip above). We are committed to working for the passage of IVAWA. We are planning a Hunger Campaign the week before Thanksgiving.
A.N.N. What kind of budget do you have compared to what you need?
R.S. We have a lot of impact given our budget. While we don’t want to grow for the sake of growing, we could easily be twice the size we are now just to cover the opportunities we have now.
A.N.N. What would you do if you had more money?
R.S. Invest in women’s associations in poor communities
Huffington Post articles written by Ritu Sharma
FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION CONTACT:
Director of Communications
Facebook Page: Women Thrive Worldwide