It is with great pride that we celebrate the 100th Anniversary of International Women's Day with an innovative, exciting new opportunity to put our collective intentions, hopes, and dreams for women around the world into action. Dermalogica has a strong history of and commitment to women's economic empowerment -- we have helped 100,000 salon owners and skin therapists get on the path to financial independence since we started 25 years ago. So, it stands to reason that we would be among the founding partners of FITE -- Financial Independence Through Entrepreneurship (www.joinFITE.org). FITE is the first microlending site to benefit women entrepreneurs in low income areas of the US and 56 countries. By the end of 2012, Dermalogica, Kiva, and its partners aim to create financial opportunities for 25,000 women, everywhere from the Bronx to Uttar Pradesh.
As a woman entrepreneur who wasn't able to get a loan when I first started Dermalogica 25 years ago, I was inspired to launch FITE after reading the bestseller by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. Their compelling premise: that the world economy can never thrive until women everywhere experience financial emancipation. Women and girls, they write, are not the problem: they are the solution.
Yet, in much -- perhaps most -- of the world, girls and women are indeed viewed as a problem, as an afterthought, if lucky. By marginalizing girls and women, this cultural and social discrepancy keeps millions of families in abject poverty. And "families" are increasingly defined as mothers and children, without men for wage-earning or protection; the men are gone, as the result of war, genocide, and HIV/AIDS in many regions of Central and West Africa, as well as many parts of India, for example. It is not unusual, in 2011, for a woman in one of these places (and many others) to find herself with several small children, without an education for herself or her kids, and thus no skilled job prospects.
The FITE initiative cannot presume to tackle all of these deeply enmeshed issues. But we do know how to help entrepreneurial women create paying work for themselves, using their own two hands, which in turn creates a ripple effect of positive change for their families, communities, and whole countries.
The women who will benefit from FITE microloans are involved in a range of businesses -- from embroidering silk pillows to selling charcoal, to raising rabbits, geese or ducks. Although we are separated by distance and language barriers, it is difficult not to feel an affinity with these women and their struggle to create a better life for themselves and their families.
In the summer of 2010, I had the great privilege of participating in a roundtable discussion in New York City, organized by the national nonprofit, Step Up Women's Network (www.suwn.org) and Bayer Healthcare to examine that most fundamental of female emancipations: reproductive freedom. The roundtable was organized to mark the 50th anniversary of the birth-control Pill. Let me add, remarkably, that millions of women in the world still have no access to any form of modern contraception, and this is a pivotal issue at the heart of world-poverty.
One of my fellow panelists in New York that day was Gloria Steinem. At the end of the discussion, I felt overwhelmed, exasperated, exhausted -- dehydrated, even -- by the vastness of the challenges facing women, especially impoverished women outside the comparatively prosperous bubble of the industrialized West. I said to Ms. Steinem, perhaps rhetorically, "I don't know what else to do."
She looked me steadily in the eye and said, without so much as a flicker of irony, "Do more". So today, when we are all wondering what tangible actions we can take on the 100th Anniversary of International Women's Day, I am asking you to do more. Watch the compelling FITE video and help a woman entrepreneur start or grow a business today.
Dermalogica launched FITE on January 6, 2011.