THE BLOG

Reaching Women Around the World

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

It is tradition to celebrate Thanksgiving with family, food, and thanks. Like many families, mine starts the holiday meal by going around the table so everyone can say what they are most thankful for. For me, I am thankful that as a woman, I live in the peace and security of the United States.

Nicholas D. Kristof of the New York Times has said that "in the 19th century, the paramount moral challenge was slavery. In the 20th century, it was totalitarianism. In this century, it is the brutality inflicted on so many women and girls around the globe: sex trafficking, acid attacks, bride burnings and mass rape." There is a growing understanding that "focusing on women and girls is the most effective way to fight global poverty and extremism."

But how? How do we help women who live so far away and face atrocities we can't even imagine? How does an individual sitting at a Thanksgiving table in the United States provide any real assistance to a woman who will never have a meal like this in her entire life?

The best program I have found is Women for Women International, an international development and humanitarian organization that helps women survivors of war move from crisis to self-sufficiency. Through the organization's sponsorship program, you can be matched with a woman in need and help her receive financial assistance, job skill training, leadership and rights awareness training and microcredit loans. A monthly contribution of $27 provides your sponsored "sister" with the keys to rebuilding her life after war. By sponsoring a woman, you not only provide her with the financial assistance she needs to get back on her feet, but you can also be a critical source of support by writing letters, which Women for Women International will translate and exchange on your behalf.

Many of the women report that the letters they receive from their sponsors in the United States and around the world provided the kind of confidential emotional support they needed most to fully recover. This year-long experience is a journey that will bring women from victim to survivor to active citizen.

As a board member for Women for Women International, I have witnessed firsthand the direct and personal impact of connecting with a woman who has lost everything in war and yet is able to rebuild her life, her family and her community with my support. So far, Women for Women International has helped over 250,000 women globally and distributed more than $79 million in direct aid, micro credit loans, and other program services. Because women reinvest up to 90% of their resources back into the family, we know that these women are helping rebuild their families and communities in a proven model of economic development. Stronger women build stronger nations.

Women are uniquely vulnerable to violence -- they are the majority of the world's displaced and refugee populations and are subjected time and again to rape and sexualized violence as tools of war. Yet women also represent enormous opportunity to rebuild families and communities. We work with rape survivors in the Democratic Republic of Congo, site of the deadliest war since WWII where hundreds of thousands of women have been raped. These same women are now learning to manufacture ceramic tiles that will build, literally and figuratively, the foundation of peace and development after war. In Afghanistan, we help illiterate mothers put their girls and boys through school amidst a conflict that has produced over a million widows, many of whom are uneducated and poverty-stricken. In Sudan, we assist poor women farmers who are then able to double their income through new techniques for commercial markets.

In a time of global financial crisis that is estimated will plunge another 22 million women into poverty, these women are on a precipice. For these women, even $27 a month can change the world and open new opportunities for them and their families to thrive. As I await my turn to give my thanks at the family supper table this Thursday, I know just what I will say.

Sheryl Sandberg is Chief Operating Officer of Facebook and sits on the board of directors of Women for Women International. For more on Women for Women International, visit womenforwomen.org or contact Lyric Thompson at lthompson@womenforwomen.org.