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Francine LeFrak Headshot

A Mother's Day Mission

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Every Mother's Day I share dinner with my mother, who, at 92, continues to defy expectations. We take the day to celebrate the glass-ceilings that have been broken by women (especially since her generation) and the great benefits that mothers give to the world. But this Mother's Day, after attending the recent Partnerships for Action Roundtable at the United Nations, I am even more motivated to find what else, we, as women, can do on this day to advance global womanhood and empower each other.

At this roundtable, I was told several shocking statistics presented by a UN Women's Study that state women make up 70% of the world's poor and 80% of the world's refugees. Two thirds of women of the world cannot read or write.

According to a recent study by WomenStatsProject, more than 70% of Afghan women face forced marriages and expectant mothers have a 1 in 11 chance of dying during childbirth. As detailed by in New York Times article, "Women See Worrisome Shift in Turkey," there were 207,253 cases of deliberate injuries to women across Turkey last year. And, according to a control group of almost 13,000 women across Turkey, 39% percent of them had suffered physical violence at some point in their lives.

Even in America, the statistics are extremely upsetting: One in every four American women has experienced domestic violence. The U.S. rape count hovers around 90,000 per year, and we are ranked 49th for infant mortality. Yet one of the greatest annoyances for American women is in the workplace. Women are still paid far less than men -- about 75-80 cents to every man's dollar.

These statistics struck deep, and although I will do my part in celebrating this Mother's Day as a joyous holiday, I will also use this day as a call for action amongst all women.

As women of the world (particularly on Mother's Day), we must, in a collaborative ethic, move forward as a whole. When the Wall Street Journal commended the growing number of women being groomed for top CEO positions, I was ecstatic. When Ann Romney was mocked during the stay-at-home mommy wars, thousands of women, including myself, stood up for her via social media and written articles. No matter what this issue is, we, as women, have the grace to be genuinely concerned with the success of our fellow women. But this Mother's Day, it is about time that we turn this graceful concern into concrete action.

So whether your passion lies in education, bolstering women in the workplace, countering domestic abuse or helping decrease Afghan infant mortality, there are plenty of statistics that need mending. And the only way to mend these statistics is for individuals to collaborate. The collective input can then create a community for tangible change.

I found my community through the great empathy I have for the women of Rwanda. I had worked on a film on the Rwandan genocide for over eight years. It was during this time that I decided to found a company in which the sole purpose would be to empower these women, who are victims of one of the world's worst genocides. Thus, in 2008, I created the company, Same Sky, a trade-not-aid initiative, that employs Rwandan mothers to create jewelry for a wage that is 15 to 20 times the average Sub-Saharan salary.

The Same Sky community has blossomed greatly over the four years we have been in action. Our New York based team is constantly looking for new ways to collaborate with other fair-trade initiatives. We recently partnered with the Nomi Network, a non-profit that provides jobs for survivors of sex trafficking in Cambodia. These women who have been, or are at risk of being sex slaves, are given a new occupation to make fair-trade bags, all with the goal to encourage people to "buy her bag, not her body."

Our Same Sky artisans also operate as a cooperative -- all of the women started out as damaged genocide survivors, but they now walk each other through their many challenges like opening a bank account, taking foreign HIV medicine or funding their children's education. The support system they have created for one another has given them the confidence and strength that they need for self-sustaining lives.

As Melanne Verveer said last week at Harvard's Kennedy School, "The great work of these women's initiatives have been siloed, we need to figure out how to bring them together." I do not know the answer to this question, but on this Mother's Day, we can at least seek to find the group or community that we can identify with and reach out to.

So as I spend this holiday with my mother, we will also spend the day with the knowledge that we have given other women a leg-up in their lives. I want to share this feeling with others, because the greatest success of my life has been finding a community that drastically improves the lives of others.