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Published: Saturday, 5/5/2007

Helping women aids whole communities

BY ROSE RUSSELL

THE state of women in the world is pathetic. For that to change, other women must make a difference for our foreign sisters.

When I see TV programs about feeding the hungry, often they show women in Third World nations carrying or tending to children out in the open or in shacks. They are consumed with trying to figure out how to feed their children each day.

Those images came to mind the other day while reading about the efforts of wealthy U.S. women to help poor foreign women. A New York Times story zeroed in on Sheila Johnson, a Black Entertainment Television founder who's made the CARE program a beneficiary of her philanthropic endeavors.

This CARE program is not about packages that were popular during World War II. Traditionally, we've used that label for any box of food and other items we send somebody, from troops at war or college students during exam week.

This CARE is an acronym for Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere. Eradicating poverty was its initial goal, but that has expanded to include investing in education and business for women, for starters.

According to a report on the "I Am Powerful" campaign launched on International Women's Day in March, CARE also tries to prevent the spread of HIV, improve access to clean water and sanitation, and get emergency aid to survivors of war and natural disasters.

Clearly, CARE strikes a chord with wealthy women, such as Sheila Johnson and Melinda Gates, and others in that financial stratosphere who want to do something meaningful to change the impoverished status of Third World women.

Women's lives in developing nations are depressing, based on some statistics on the issue from advocatesforyouth.org.

For instance, a study on Punjab, India revealed that the mortality rate of girls between 1 and 23 months is almost two times that of males.

Children and teen brides in many Third World nations are less likely to use contraceptives and more likely to begin having children before their own bodies are fully developed.

These powerless girls and women are also subject to such hedonistic cultural practices as female genital mutilation, and dowry and honor murder.

They are victims of rape and sexual and physical abuse that so permeates some cultures that it seems the norm, but it's not.

Women are widely demeaned. Girls in Java work from 33 percent to 85 percent more hours daily compared to their male counterparts. Some things are the same everywhere.

You don't have to be wealthyto want to improve the lives of the world's poorest women. As a matter of fact, investing in women helps advance whole communities. It's widely known that when women's lives are improved, the lives of their families and communities are, too.

For instance, the more education a woman has, the fewer children she has and those she has tend to be much healthier. Additionally, the longer a girl remains in school, the more income she is able to earn as an adult. In turn, her family's financial status also climbs.

But those changes cannot be made unless some basic issues are dealt with first. They include empowering women to confront discrimination, to get an education, and to improve their access to resources to change their impoverished condition.

It may be years before foreign women can truly believe CARE's campaign slogan, "I Am Powerful," and have something to show for it. However, change begins with an idea, and urging them to embrace that slogan will convince them that they too can determine their own destiny.

Besides, some of the American women investing in CARE are examples of what can happen when one ponders an idea and dreams. Just look at Oprah.

Rose Russell is a Blade associate editor.

E-mail rrussell@theblade.com



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