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5 Things You Can Do Today to Empower Women in Poverty

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More than 1.2 billion people live in extreme poverty around the world. For many women and children, that means living on less than $2 a day. Imagine having to make the decision between paying your daughter's school fees or having food to eat for the week.

Whether it's coffee workers in Honduras, young factory workers in Bangladesh, or shea butter cooperatives in Ghana, globally women are often underpaid, exploited and struggling to support their families.

But what can we do? As we go about our busy lives most of us care but are paralyzed by inaction.

In Ritu Sharma's new book Teach a Woman to Fish: Overcoming Poverty Around the Globe, she highlights individual stories of women, girls, mothers and families. And more importantly, she breaks down actions we can all take that will make a critical difference in supporting women and girls worldwide.

Here are five things you can do today (and everyday) to support women and girls living in poverty globally:

1. Contact your member of Congress.

The International Violence Against Women Act (more commonly called the IVAWA) will mandate protections for women and girls globally. From permanently authorizing the Office of Global Women's Issues at the State Department to demanding a coordinated response from the U.S. when women and girls are raped, brutalized or attacked as a weapon of war, IVAWA addresses critical needs for women and girls who experience gender-based violence.

When it comes to using your voice, this is a big one. Write your member of Congress, ask for a meeting, let them know that you care about how the United States reacts to violence against women globally. They don't hear from their constituents as much as you think, and they certainly aren't being pushed hard enough on these matters.

Want some talking points? Remind your Congress members that one in three women worldwide will be physically or sexually assaulted in her life, and 50 percent of the world's sexual assaults are on girls under the age of 15.

2. Eat, drink and dress fair trade.

A simple step, but one with an enormous impact. In many places around the world, women are especially vulnerable to exploitation in the marketplace and the workforce. You can help ensure they receive a fair price and they have safer working conditions by making a commitment to purchase food, coffee, tea, and clothing from businesses that are "Fair Trade Certified." In Europe it's labeled "FAIRTRADE," and if you go online you can find it under fairtradeusa.org/products-partners.

While these products cost a little more, you are contributing to someone's ability to earn a fair wage. That's money well spent.

3. Ask about ethical sourcing.

When you shop, inquire about whether your favorite brand operates ethically. Or better yet, write to the CEO. The goal here is to make sure retailers are hearing people ask about their ethical practices. The more the message is sent up the retail chain that people are asking about a company's ethics, the more corporations might begin to take notice and address supply chain issues.

It's a long process, but this is where using your voice in a retail store can make a difference to a woman sewing your dress on the other side of the world.

4. Get involved in promoting education for all girls.

According to the World Bank, a child born to a literate mother is 50 percent more likely to survive past the age of five. Overall, quality education is a leading pathway out of poverty. In the past few years, we have seen a rise in the number of girls enrolled in school; however, many of these children are not learning even the basics.

You can help by urging President Obama to direct U.S. representatives at the United Nations to secure a stand-alone learning goal in the post-2015 Millennium Development Goals. It sounds wonky, but just adding your name to this petition could have a big, big impact.

5. Contribute.

Your support -- both financial and volunteer -- is essential to organizations that work to benefit women and girls living in poverty globally. Without people who fight for laws and policies to protect women's rights, there would be much less attention on issues that hit home for the world's women and girls.

This summer, as you enjoy time off of work, think about reading this book and keep in mind that the little things we do everyday and the opportunities we have to use our voice will have enormous impact for those living in poverty globally.