Today is International Women’s Day, an opportunity to recognize the accomplishments of women and to speak out for gender equality. Given the focus of this blog, I thought it would be appropriate to celebrate the day by suggesting a few ways you can help women and girls at home and around the world.

Support Literacy and Education

Throughout much of the East and Africa, the literacy gap between men and women is significant–and almost always to the detriment of women. In Afghanistan, one of the most extreme examples, literacy is at 43% for men and 12% for women. Yes, you read that correctly: 12%. Other countries with significant disparities include Sudan (72% for men, 51% for women), Pakistan (69% for men, 30% for women), and Laos (83% for men, 63% for women). (Source: CIA World Factbook)

Why does it matter? Because education and literacy go hand in hand–and literate, educated girls are better equipped to live independently, to earn a good living, and to stand up for themselves and against oppression. Moreover, studies show that women are far more likely than men to use the rewards of education (money, status, etc.) to help their families and communities. In other words, helping girls and women helps everyone. (LearnVest, a women’s finance group, has a great article on this.)

So what can you do? Donate to organizations that improve women’s and girl’s literacy. Volunteer with a local program that helps refugee women and girls learn English, learn to read, or succeed in school. If you want to get extreme, head overseas as a volunteer or staff member for an organization that improves girls’ educational opportunities.

Vote

Those who govern us make a huge impact on girls and women both in the United States and overseas. At the state and local level, our leaders and officials make a myriad of decisions that affect the daily lives of women and girls. They can set incentives for women-owned businesses, get serious about domestic violence and sex crimes, make our communities welcoming (or not) for refugee families, and uphold educational equality.

At the federal level, our President and Congress make decisions about issues like equal pay for equal work, women’s healthcare, and family leave time. They also decide whether to allocate foreign aid to gender-focused initiatives, and they appoint our nation’s representatives abroad, the diplomats who can put U.S. clout behind efforts to aid women and girls overseas.

There are so many issues that dramatically affect women and girls–you don’t have to be aware of them all. My suggestion is that you choose the one or few that most resonate with you and find the the candidates who feel the same. Vote for them, and then hold them accountable if they win.

Mentor a Girl

If you’re a woman who’s at least of college age, this is a great way to have a significant, positive impact on the next generation of women. It’s a particularly helpful option if you want to make a meaningful connection with girls but don’t have children of your own or don’t work in a child-centered field. And our nation is so large and diverse that there are mentoring opportunities to suit pretty much any personality type and schedule.

If you want to go through an organization, try volunteering with Girl Scouts or Big Sisters. Or think of interests or skills you have and how you can translate those into mentoring opportunities; if you love the arts, for instance, you may be able to find a mentee through a local children’s theatre group or children’s symphony. Are you a woman working in a male-dominated field? Contact local schools and offer to host a question-and-answer session or even sponsor a club for girls who are interested in the same profession. And don’t forget your existing connections; if you attend church or synagogue, for instance, the congregation’s youth group may need volunteers.

However you choose to do it, the idea is to do something. Find your own personal way to encourage and uplift women and girls, especially those in difficult circumstances. In short, get out there and do some inspiring!

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