Just as women have been a growing force in American political and economic affairs over the past century, women in developing countries are emerging as an equally powerful force for social and economic change. One organization is making efforts to use the experience and resources of American women to help empower women throughout the world.
How would American investment in programs to help foreign women benefit entire developing countries? The director of the Women's Edge Coalition says this focus on females would help end the poverty, war, and disease that can stunt the growth of a nation.
"Women put their money, when they have money, they put it right back into their families, and to their healthcare, and to their education, and their well-being," she says. "And that helps to end the cycle of poverty."
Coalition director Ritu Sharma believes that women in developing countries need to actively participate in their economies and governments, but they cannot do it alone. That's why her organization released a Global Issues Guide offering suggestions to make America's assistance more effective. It encourages women in the United States to press their political representatives to take principled stands on women's concerns like economic equality, education, health, and violence against women.
"Just ask questions. That's all. A simple question can change how the candidates think about the issues," she says. "To let people know that American women around the country care about this enough to ask the candidates and ask elected officials what they're doing about it."
The coalition invited several prominent women from across the globe to share their experiences with these issues. Panel member Pono Gwyneth Silonda is the South African chair of the International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS. She says she has a responsibility as a woman to advocate and educate.
"We acknowledge that as women, we have special needs because of the different roles that we play in our homes," she says. "We are the caregivers, we are mothers, we are breadwinners. And in most cases, we tend to ignore our own health to make sure that our families are fed, healthy, and happy."
The Women's Edge Coalition has launched an awareness campaign that puts its goals in simple terms: "One Million Women to Call for a Better, Safer World." According to Susan Shaer of the Women's Action for New Directions, a coalition partner, women need to express what she calls their unique visions for that better world. "It's time for women to stand up and to speak out," she says. "To make clear what we value and what our vision includes because it is different. And we have to make that be the reality. Now, women do have different values. We look at things with a different lens. We say that women are farsighted, pragmatic, and generous. And we do see a better, safer future."
Ms. Shaer believes that in striving for that future, women take a decidedly different path than men. She says women put greater stock than most men do in peaceful alternatives like international aid and diplomacy what she calls "extending a hand, not a fist."
"Now, at the risk of being controversial, our male leaders have too easily, too readily, too often turned to military force to solve problems," she says. "And as a result, the United States finds itself increasingly isolated, and a military giant with few friends. Women offer another way."
Members of the Women's Edge Coalition say they are increasingly concerned about U.S. activity in post-conflict regions. Director Ritu Sharma believes efforts to rebuild war-damaged countries like Iraq and Afghanistan will be fruitless unless there is what she calls "a clear focus on women."
"I do think we can make a change, I do think we can make specific changes in the direction of U.S. policy," she says. "What we want is more investment in women and girls. What we want are more non-violent solutions to conflict. What we want is more creativity in our war on terrorism and how we approach Iraq and Afghanistan. And I think that, working together, we can make those changes happen."
South African Pono Silonda echoes Ms. Sharma's remarks, saying that American women have the power to change the current world picture, not only with conflict resolution, but also with the fight against HIV/AIDS.
"I challenge all American women and the U.S. government to invest in developing countries to make anti-retroviral drugs accessible to poor communities in developing countries so that children could not lose their mothers at an early age," she says. "Who wants to grow up without a mother, let alone a family unit? When you invest in a woman, you are investing in the nation. Give women a chance to live meaningful and productive lives."
The Women's Edge Coalition urges American women to consider where their favorite U.S. presidential candidate stands on these issues, before casting their votes in the upcoming November elections.