THE BLOG
11/07/2007 03:11 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Moving Women to Action Through Lifelines

It's troubling to me that when many Americans think of Africa, Asia and Latin America they only have visions of turmoil and trials. Our TV screens are riddled with images of women starving to death, dying of AIDS, raped by soldiers. The problems seem so far from our own experiences that it makes the women and the seriousness of the situations feel equally distant.

And it becomes hard to imagine that women in Seattle have much in common with women in Senegal or Suriname at all. Instinct might suggest that we are worlds apart, but we all grow up with dreams. We all contemplate marriage and children in some way. And often, we love, laugh and cry at similar situations and celebrate similar passages through life.

Fortunately, I get to contemplate the commonalities pretty often. In July, I visited Dr. Dorj Munkhuu, known throughout the country as the Godmother of Mongolia. She introduced me to her grandchildren and great-grandchildren and she took me to the rural nomadic communities and showed me how UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund helps her provide medical services to women in the most remote areas of Mongolia. I witnessed in awe, as pregnant women received checkups, complete with sonograms in two tiny tents in the Mongolian countryside. And I realized that without this care these women, like many in rural Mongolia, could die during childbirth.

As I saw Dr. Munkhuu's granddaughter aspiring to be like her, I realized that her family ties were in many ways similar to my Bangladeshi roots. And in the same breath I was reminded, that we all need access to quality health care to allow any of our dreams to come to true.

I want us to have more opportunities to share experiences and learn about our commonalities. Perhaps then we might then be moved to action when we see women denied basic rights because we'll see that with a flip of a coin it could just as easily be one of us.

And that's why we at Americans for UNFPA launched an online community called Lifelines. Through Lifelines you can read the story of a 60-year-old from Cambodia whose first job taught her to sew and today she helps victims of domestic violence learn to do so as a means for economic sustainability. You can read the story of an 87-year-old from the U.S. who had her first child at age 27 and safely delivered 7 children in her lifetime. And you can compare your experiences to these and other women in the world.

We're not naive about it. The Internet doesn't allow us to reach women everywhere. But our website, where Lifelines lives, tells the stories of many women whose voices are often never heard. But of course there's more to it than building community. We need to restore U.S. support to the women of the world.

Last year, nations around the world contributed over $400 million to UNFPA, the largest international source of assistance for women. Even Afghanistan gave $200. But not us. For the last seven years President Bush has withheld U.S. funds from UNFPA. We are the ONLY country in the world to withhold funds from UNFPA for political reasons.

So while UNFPA is trying to change the fact that 536,000 women are dying every year in child birth and 201 million women want but don't have access to contraception, the U.S. isn't helping them.

If more Americans knew that the U.S. does not support UNFPA's work they'd be outraged, don't you think? The problem is that while Americans believe that global women's health and rights are a priority (the U.S. was instrumental in forming UNFPA over 30 years ago, after all) many individuals have not heard of UNFPA and in turn don't know that UNFPA is the largest source of such assistance for women around the world.

So here's what I'm asking of you. Post your Lifelines. Read a few others. And, think about the commonalities between you and them. How much would you like to help these women -- all women-- have access to adequate health care, education, and a world free from violence? Shouldn't America be part of the solution?