As the co-founder and president of Women Thrive Worldwide, I spend every day in Washington D.C. making sure that leaders from around the country know how important it is to ensure that women and girls can share equally in the enjoyment of opportunities, economic prosperity and freedom from fear and violence. I work hard to make sure they understand that investing in women and girls is the key to lifting entire communities out of poverty.
Worldwide, more than one billion people live on less than $1 a day and the majority of them are women. This means that for the cost of a bag of potato chips, women around the world cook, care for and support their families. These are the women that we fight for. That's why right now I'm packing my bags to head to the other side of the world in Sri Lanka. Just like I've done before in Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Burkina Faso, I'm living side by side with just one of the many millions of women around the world that manage to survive on a $1 a day.
In 2008, when I traveled to Nicaragua, I met Leticia Mansaranes Lanza, an inspiring woman who lived on less than 20 Cordovas (about $1) a day. Like many Nicaraguan women, unemployment, drought and unequal economic barriers have left Leticia with little to no income. Because she doesn't have the money to buy an irrigation system, she relies on good weather for her entire livelihood, cannot afford basic health care and must constantly choose between basic necessities.
In the fall of 2009 in Guatemala, one of the poorest countries in Latin America, I met Margarita, a subsistence farmer who supports her family by selling vegetables that she grows with her husband. Unfortunately, they can barely produce enough food to feed their family, let alone enough to sell. As a result their income is extremely low -- combined, they earn about 50 Quetzales a day ($6.02), which they must split among 13 people. I learned about the challenges she faces -- which are sometimes as basic as buying soap to wash her family's clothes. Her poor diet often didn't leave her with the energy to work her field. Her single greatest wish was simply to be able to afford to send her children to the doctor.
In 2010, I met Mariam in the West African nation of Burkina Faso, where I weeded crops, hauled water up from deep wells and carried it on my head like a local through meadows back to the village, and saw what a dollar could actually buy in the local market -- all in 100 plus degree heat. Just one day of this routine left my back aching and my feet sore, but Burkinabe woman do this every single day. Their big challenges were that they couldn't afford seeds and fertilizer or the fees to legally own title to their land.
Mariam, Margarita, and Leticia are just three of the amazing women who, despite their economic circumstances, brave each new day with determination and a smile. As I embark on my fourth "$1 a day" trip to Sri Lanka, I'm determined to bring back the stories and lessons from women and girls like them, so that when I come back to Washington, D.C. I can be the best possible advocate for them.
But the truth is you don't have to travel halfway around the world to help. You can help right from your living room, whether it's by making a call to your members of Congress to ask them to support international assistance or by joining our $1 a day Circle, where you can help the world's poorest women and girls. Your voice and your activism can make a difference.
At Women Thrive, we've made major progress over the years to get our leaders to focus on the challenges faced by women and girls living in poverty. But there's still a long way to go, and your support and voice keep us going.
As you think about how to give meaningfully this #GivingTuesday, I encourage you to consider the multiplier effect of investing in women. Decades of research have shown that when women have access to greater economic resources, they invest directly back in their families and communities. You can impact many millions of them worldwide this #GivingTuesday by joining our $1 a Day circle. The most important thing, though, is that you just GIVE. Give a gift this year that will keep giving back -- consider investing in women in girls.
This blog is part of our #GivingTuesday series, produced by The Huffington Post and the teams at InterAction, 92nd Street Y,United Nations Foundation, and others. Following Black Friday and Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday - which takes place for the first time on Tuesday, November 27 - is a movement intended to open the holiday season on a philanthropic note. Go to www.givingtuesday.org to learn more and get involved.