Recognizing Women, the Changemakers

When you and I take the basic necessities of life for granted, we can sometimes forget that to some people, they can mean the difference between life and death.

I was reminded of this while watching Water in Tigray, a video from Oxfam America, where water has saved lives. It tells the story of women in Tigray in Northern Ethiopia, who would walk 11 miles, every day, to get water. Why? Because that was the closest water source. Can you imagine that? Eleven miles there, 11 miles back. And the five-gallon jugs they'd fill would weigh about 40 lbs, so they were trekking 22 miles... a day... and carrying 40 lbs on the way back... a day.

Perhaps the toughest part of watching the video was hearing about a woman who went into labor while on the trek; somehow, the other women managed to get her back to the village, but her baby died after a week.

Fortunately, thanks to a partnership between the local government, the Women's Association of Tigray and Oxfam America, they now have a dam and lake much closer to their village. So now they can get water much more easily, which leaves time for other essential activities, like cooking. And the animals are doing better, because with more water, they're producing more milk, which means more food and income all around.

Poverty is a hot button. Ask pretty much anyone if they think it should be eradicated, and chances are they'll say yes. But you know what one of the solutions to poverty is? Empowering women.

Did you know one in seven people go to bed hungry every night? And this isn't because there isn't enough food to go around. It's because there are deep imbalances in access to resources like fertile lands and water (like the story I just shared with you). In fact, more than 40 percent of the world's population -- 2.5 billion people -- live in poverty, and most of them are women.

But, if women were given the same level of access to resources that men have, they could increase yields on their farms by 20-30 percent. Hunger and poverty are about power and inequality, and women and girls face the biggest inequalities of all.

This International Women's Day, how about showing women everywhere you appreciate their contributions to our world, contributions that often go unacknowledged and unrecognized? Oxfam America is giving you a couple of really easy ways to do this:

1. Send an International Women's Day eCard to a woman you know, to say thank you for all that she does. Better yet, send it to several women who've made the world a better place.

2. Give the Oxfam America International Women's Day 2012 award to a woman you think has made a difference in your world, in the world. She could be a teacher, your mom, a non-profit leader, a woman entrepreneur, the neighbor who always checks up on you when you're ill... the possibilities are endless.

To give your award, just fill out the PDF file with the awardee's name, and your name and date. You can then save it as a PDF or JPG (JPG if you want your readers to see the actual award) file. Then just publish a post to your blog, or to Facebook (make sure to tag her so she sees it), or wherever you'd like. You can even print it out and give it to her as a tangible reminder of your gratefulness.

International Women's Day is also an opportunity for women to come together and realize their collective power to create change in their homes, their neighborhoods, their communities and in the world.

The poet Matthew Arnold wrote in the 1800s, "If ever the world sees a time when women will come together purely for the good of humanity, it will be a power as the world has never seen."

Now is our time, and we are the women.