03/14/2011 01:15 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Proving The Value Of Women In Rural Afghanistan

This post is part of our month-long series featuring Greatest Women of the Day, in recognition of Women's History Month.

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An unlikely combination of events first propelled Shannon Galpin to a life dedicated to women's issues: one year after she became a first-time mom, Shannon's sister was raped at college. Confounded by the frequency of rape -- Shannon was raped at 17 years old -- and protective as the mother of a daughter, Shannon had to act.

"When I became a mother, all those instincts pushed be forward from talking about the issues to really feeling like I'd had enough. I just leapt."

In 2006, Shannon left her career as an athletic trainer to take her vision for gender equity global. She founded Mountain2Mountain, an organization that works in conflict regions to create opportunities for women and girls, from her Colorado home.

"I leveraged everything, my home, my car, to start Mountain2Mountain," she said. "I knew that was the only way to get it started. And if we didn't start going to Afghanistan with smaller projects, and building trust with locals, we wouldn't make real change."

Despite her own experience of violence against women domestically, for Shannon, the plight of women in Afghanistan and in war zones around the world still resonates deeply.

"At the end of the day, I feel lucky to be living in the Western world with an assumed equality and I really felt the pull to focus on these women around the world," Shannon said. "They don't have the justice, they don't have the public perception backing them as equals."

Her first projects were collaborations in mountain communities in Pakistan and shortly after, Shannon began traveling and working in Afghanistan.

Today, she is driven by the fierce hunger for change she witnesses in her work with Afghan women and girls.

"If our girls were risking having acid thrown in their faces walking to school we wouldn't let them go. They're willing to take these huge risks because they're so desperate for an education. They understand the importance of an education to such an extent that it is truly moving."

Working on the premise that education is the key component for community growth and change, Mountain2Mountain establishes programs that include training, job creation and microfinance. One of their most successful ventures has been a rural midwifery training program.

"You change the value of a woman by proving their worth in these rural villages. We can work within the restraints of their culture but still create a ripple of change that cuts across to the next generation."

Working in small and remote pockets of Afghanistan will continue to be the focus of Shannon and her organization, but on a larger scale, she believes the fight for gender equality needs to move forward with the help of both female and male advocates.

"Women's rights are always going to remain just a women's issue if it's only women who care. They need to become human right, with men and women fighting for women's rights. That will be powerful."