New York this week will be a gridlock of diplomats and do-gooders, the well-heeled and the well-meaning as the United Nations General Assembly convenes to discuss, among other things, progress toward Millennium Development Goals. The crowd at the UN certainly won't be alone. Scores of other events have been packed into the week, from the Social Good Summit to the Clinton Global Initiative.
Beyond the island of Manhattan, there are many who also want make the world a better place for the world's poor, and especially for the women who often suffer most. Many of us wonder: What can I do to help?
I recently realized: the one way we can all empower women and girls in the developing world is with education. Our own.
When I left graduate school with a newly minted degree in International Affairs with a focus on health and demography, I thought I knew just about everything there was to know about maternal health. But upon visiting the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia, I encountered an issue no textbook, case study or professor I could remember had ever talked about, yet one that affects more than half a million women worldwide: obstetric fistula.
Obstetric fistula is a childbirth injury that happens when a woman's labor becomes obstructed and she has no access to emergency intervention, like a Caesarian section. In places where there's no luxury of an ambulance or doctor if something goes wrong, labor lasts until the baby is dislodged - sometimes, days. The baby rarely survives and the constant pressure often creates a fistula, a hole through which the woman will leak waste. Even worse, the smell from her incontinence often drives her husband and community to abandon her, leaving her to fend for herself.
How can a woman who is constantly leaking waste possibly concentrate on anything else in her life? She can't. But for as little as $450, a woman with fistula can be treated through surgery and lead a normal, productive life again. This is what inspired me; this is a breakable link in the chain of poverty.
These days, I get to work with incredible supporters and heroic doctors who consistently inspire me with their dedication, commitment and compassion. Standing shoulder to shoulder with them and us is one of the world's most generous and respected corporations, Johnson & Johnson. They've quietly done more to help eradicate fistula than any other company in the world, contributing over a million dollars to us to fund fistula treatment and providing life-changing surgical supplies.
Educating myself about fistula led me to my role today, and I believe education is an important first step toward helping anyone. So, here's a way to learn about issues facing women in the developing world, so you can determine what sways your heart. First, watch "Half the Sky" when the four hour, two-night documentary airs on PBS October 1 and 2. Then, play a game.
In November, social impact game designer Games for Change will launch a Half the Sky Facebook game as an offshoot of the documentary. It will be entertaining, and will give all of us the chance to go deeper into themes presented in the film, from girls' education to maternal health. In the game, each player is immersed in a village as a female character and is responsible for meeting the end goal of independence and financial stability for this character. Here's the really fun part: actions players make during the game will create matching contributions from sponsors that will be put to use in the real world: building schools, donating livestock and - thanks to a generous $250,000 donation from Johnson & Johnson - supporting fistula treatment hundreds of women.
It's clicking for a cause at its finest, because not only will players help women in the developing world through participation, they will also gain greater awareness of the cultural, geographic and health challenges these women face. The stories and data in the game will be real, provided by The Fistula Foundation and the seven other non-governmental partners participating: World Vision, ONE, Room to Read, Heifer International, Girl Up, Tostan, and GEMS. It's an incredibly innovative way to build awareness and engage all of us in building opportunities for women in the real world, click by click.
So, you see, the key to empowering women in the developing world starts with people like you and me, who are motivated to find one issue that truly speaks to our hearts, the way fistula spoke to mine. When you find that issue, you'll think of a way that you can contribute to fixing it. In fact, you might even find that your great idea to help will just "click."