Thursday, March 29, 2012

Women who inspire us: CARE’s Helene Gayle

This guest post is by Helene Gayle, president and CEO of CARE USA, one of the largest nonprofit organizations in the world dedicated to fighting poverty. This is the fifth in a series of blog posts celebrating Women’s History Month, and the incredible impact women can make when they have access to the right resources.

Helene Gayle in Bangladesh.

What I remember most is her easy confidence. Here we were in remote northwest Bangladesh, in a village reachable only by bamboo rafts, ruled by cultural norms that force many women to remain cloistered inside their homes. But this little girl -- she couldn’t have been more than 12 -- looked me in the eye and, with poise beyond her years, explained that she was in charge of promoting education.

“I teach other women and girls how to read and write,” she said with the kind of pride that comes from knowing you are making a difference. “My mother taught me, and I feel it is my duty to teach others.”

She was a member of SHOUHARDO, a CARE program to reduce malnutrition in Bangladesh by focusing on the empowerment of women and girls. That journey through waterlogged villages near Rangpur, Bangladesh came in 2006, shortly after I started as president and CEO of CARE. It was one of those inspirational days that left me thinking: “That’s it -- that girl and millions of others like her can change the world.”

Earlier this month, I celebrated International Women’s Day in Washington, D.C. with a group of CARE’s most dedicated supporters -- those who advocate on behalf of the poor around the world as part of the CARE Action Network. We participated in over 150 meetings with policymakers to discuss the importance of investing in programs that fight global poverty -- programs like SHOUHARDO.

In conjunction with International Women’s Day, we released astounding results from the first phase of SHOUHARDO (check out the fact sheet). Researchers found that women are more likely to have healthier children when they participate in empowerment programs that help them fight sexual harassment, move freely about their communities and have more say in household decisions. Literally speaking, the children of empowered women actually grow taller.

As a leading humanitarian organization combating global poverty, CARE places special focus on working alongside poor women. Equipped with the right resources, these women have the power to lift their families, and even entire communities out of poverty. Women are at the heart of CARE’s community-based efforts to improve education, prevent the spread of disease, increase access to clean water and sanitation, expand economic opportunity, and protect natural resources.

Of the 1.4 billion people who live on less than $1 a day, more than 60% are women and girls. However, while they disproportionately bear the brunt of poverty, there is increasing evidence -- demonstrated by programs like SHOUHARDO -- that investing in women and women’s empowerment yields tremendous economic and social gains for women, their families and their communities.

I am proud to be a part of this growing movement to expand opportunity for women and girls worldwide. And I call on others to continue investing in efforts that recognize the important role women play in the fight against global poverty.

Dr. Helene D. Gayle is president and CEO of CARE USA. Previously, she spent 20 years at the Centers for Disease Control working on HIV/AIDS initiatives. She went on to direct the HIV, Tuberculosis and Reproductive Health Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. At CARE, she heads one of the world’s premier humanitarian organizations, overseeing anti-poverty programs in over 80 countries.

From Kiva: Why Helene Gayle inspires us

As an expert on health, global development and humanitarianism, Helene has devoted her career to fighting for better opportunities and brighter futures for people across the globe. Her groundbreaking work at CARE has raised awareness and support for the empowerment of women and girls across the developing world.

Helene has traveled tirelessly to witness firsthand the challenges women and girls face in fighting for basic rights. We admire her immensely for bringing these women’s stories to light, and connecting them with millions of people around the world who also want to fight against global poverty. Thank you so much, Helene, for your thoughtful, innovative and inspiring work!

To learn more about CARE’s SHOUHARDO program and its results, check out this video:

Find out more about what Kiva is doing to extend opportunity to thousands of women and girls worldwide at You can help a woman start or build a business today by lending as little as $25.