Hungry for Justice: Food Security and Violence Against Women

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World Food Day—October 16th—falls right in the middle of Domestic Violence Awareness month. At first the connection between the two might seem tenuous. But as Oxfam’s GROW Campaign eloquently argues, “Hunger isn’t about too many people and too little food. Hunger is about inequality. And women and girls face the greatest inequalities of all”. When women are hungry, they are forced to make impossible choices and take untenable chances that make them vulnerable to violence.

Women grow the majority of the world’s food—and are also the majority of the world’s hungry because of vast inequalities in resources and power. Women farmers in the US still face a “grass ceiling”—denied access to billions in loans from the USDA.  And the situation is worse in developing countries, where women face discrimination in land ownership, lack of education, and little access to the capital, technology, and markets needed to make a living on the land. Women could feed up to 150 million more people if they had the same agricultural resources as men, according to a United Nations report.

But before women feed the world, they must feed themselves and their families—a simple act which exposes them up to violence, rape and abuse.

  • In Bangladesh, women in households with lower food security are more at risk for physical and emotional abuse.
  • Women in Bostwana who did not have enough to eat were twice as likely to have sold sex and were more likely to report a lack of control in sexual relationships.
  • Women displaced by conflict in Darfur face further violence when they go to gather firewood and water.
  • When food rations were cut at refugee camps in Tanzania in 2005, the World Food Program warned of an increased violence against women as women ventured further afield to feed their families and tensions rose in hungry households.
  • Women from Canada to the Congo who have left abusive relationship or been victims of violence are often left economically vulnerable and food insecure.

This month, join Oxfam’s GROW Campaign and hold a WFD dinner with friends and family. Take time to talk about the amazing culture, community and power of food. Food security is human security. Women feed the world—they deserve the chance to feed their families free of violence.

Teach a Woman to Fish: Overcoming Poverty Around the Globe

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Teach a Woman to Fish is the story of millions of women and girls worldwide who are striving to break free of poverty, violence, and inequality. It is…
  • A globe-spanning first-hand account from a leading champion for women living in poverty around the world, Women Thrive Worldwide Co-Founder and President Ritu Sharma.
  • An introduction to how U.S. foreign policy works, and sometimes doesn’t work, to help realize the potential of half the world’s population.
  • An urgent call to action for readers to join the global struggle for equality and opportunity for women and girls around the world.
 Praise for Teach a Woman to Fish
Praise from Jimmy Carter, 39th President of the United States, and co-founder of The Carter Center with his wife, Rosalynn Carter

“Ritu Sharma delivers inspiring stories of women and men who are overcoming great obstacles to improve the lives of girls and women under dire circumstances. She also provides insights into how we in America can help individually and through our government’s aid programs. Every citizen and lawmaker should read this book.”

Praise from Melinda Gates, Co-Chair and Trustee, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

In Teach a Woman to Fish, Ritu Sharma shows us what unites women around the world: devotion to their families, pride in their children, and a willingness to sacrifice for a better future. Using highly accessible prose, she helps make the sometimes abstract concept of women’s empowerment concrete, showing how no matter where they live, women’s hard work is absolutely essential to building thriving communities.

Praise from former U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe, Senior Fellow, Bipartisan Policy Center

“Ritu Sharma paints a remarkably personal and poignant portrait of both the enormous challenges and the boundless resiliency of women living in some of the world’s poorest regions. Most importantly, she provides keen insights into the circumstances that work against them, and offers an array of concrete steps based on the depth of her experience that can change lives and further empower these extraordinary women.”

Praise from Eve Ensler, Playwright and Activist

“Ritu Sharma has a singular commitment to the rights of women and girls, a unique understanding of what it takes to make a difference, and an uncanny ability to combine the two.”

Praise from Maria Bello, actor and activist

“Ritu Sharma is a passionate leader for women and girls around the world. With her profound understanding and compassion, she gives voice to their inspirational stories of hopes, dreams and challenges that will continue to echo in our hearts.”

Praise from Raymond Offenheiser, President, Oxfam America

“With a storyteller’s eye and an advocate’s passion, Ritu Sharma takes us on a personal journey that lays bare the simple injustices that rob women of their rights and dignity while offering a contrasting vision of aid interventions and policy reforms that unlock their potential for leadership and liberation.”

22 Facts About Women Water

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Since 1993, World Water Day (celebrated on March 22) has brought attention to water-related issues and inspired the world to take action to improve access to clean, safe water for everyone.

Women and girls are uniquely affected by their access — or lack of it — to clean water. To help bring awareness to the connection between women and water, we’ve compiled a list of 22 facts that you may not know.

  1. 663 million people lack access to safe water (source)
  2. Globally, women and girls are the primary water collectors for their families (source)
  3. In African countries, women are five times more likely than men to collect drinking water for the household (source)
  4. On average, women and girls travel 3.7 miles per day collecting water and carry up to 5 gallons per trip (source)
  5. For a family of six, collecting enough water for drinking, cooking, and basic hygiene means hauling water for an average of three hours per day (source)
  6. Every day, women and children around the globe spend 200 million hours collecting water (source)
  7. In some parts of India, women have to wait up to 10 days for water (source)
  8. Women are responsible for maintaining basic household hygiene and keeping themselves and their children clean without contaminating the stored water they need for drinking and cooking (source)
  9. Access to enough good quality water is vital to protecting pregnant women from serious diseases such as hepatitis and sepsis (source)
  10. Giving birth in places with inadequate drinking water, sanitation facilities, and poor management of medical waste increases the risk of disease and death for the mother and her baby (source)
  11. Women who carry heavy water containers on their head, hip, or back can experience many physical issues, including pelvic deformities that may result in childbirth problems (source)
  12. 70 percent of the world’s blind are women who have been infected, directly or through their children, with trachoma—a blinding bacterial eye infection occurring in communities with limited access to water (source)
  13. 80 percent of young women with HIV live in sub-Saharan Africa where women and girls still have the primary burden of collecting water for their families.  The side effects of HIV/AIDS make collecting and carrying water more difficult.  This leaves their daughters with the primary responsibility of collecting water and taking care of their sick parents and grandparents (source)
  14. Women and girls living without a toilet spend 266 million hours each day finding a place to go (source)
  15. Many women only use the restroom at night because there isn’t a safe, private place for them to use.  This increases the risk of assault, sexual harassment, and animal attacks (source)
  16. Globally, 1/3 of all schools lack access to safe water and sanitation (source)
  17. Many girls drop out of school during puberty because there aren’t separate toilets, hand washing facilities, and sanitary napkin disposals (source)
  18. A 15-minute reduction in water collection time increases the proportion of girls attending school by 8-12 percent (source)
  19. In sub-Saharan Africa, women spend 40 billion hours a year collecting water.  That is equivalent to a year’s worth of labor by the entire French workforce (source)
  20. In India, there are 62 percent more drinking water projects in areas with female-led councils (source)
  21. Women’s involvement in the planning, financing, and upkeep of community water projects makes the projects six to seven times more effective (source)
  22. Increasing women’s access to clean water would free up hundreds of hours annually that could be devoted to more valuable and economically beneficial pursuits (source)

Ritu Sharma

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Ritu Sharma

Co-Founder and President
Office of the President

Biography of Ritu Sharma, Co-Founder and President

About Ritu Sharma

In 1998, Ritu Sharma co-founded Women Thrive Worldwide with Elise Fiber Smith. Under Ritu’s leadership, Women Thrive Worldwide has put the concerns of the poorest women and girls at the center of all U.S. international assistance. An adept coalition builder, political strategist, communicator and motivational speaker, Ritu is a leading voice on international women’s issues and U.S. foreign policy.


Ritu’s many media appearances and credits include: MSNBC, The Washington Post, National Public Radio, Politico, The New York Daily News, The Boston Globe, The Baltimore Sun, Lifetime Television, and Parade magazine. She is also a regular contributor to the Huffington Post and World Pulse.

An acclaimed speaker, Ritu was chosen to deliver an opening keynote at the 2004 Hilton Humanitarian Prize Symposium along with Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Muhammad Yunus. She also highlighted Thrive’s role in pushing the U.S. to integrate women at the 2008 White House Summit on Global Development hosted by President George Bush.

Ritu is the author of An Introduction to Advocacy: A Training Guide , which has been translated into six languages and is a primary reference for advocates around the globe. Click here to download the guide (PDF).

Legacy in the Making

Ritu’s advocacy has been instrumental in the State Department’s 2010 decision to make gender a priority across U.S. international assistance and foreign policy. She was also a driving force behind the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA). Introduced in February 2010, this bi-partisan, comprehensive legislation addressed violence against women and girls worldwide and came very close to being passed in the 111th Congress. Women Thrive Worldwide, together with Amnesty International USA and the Family Violence Prevention Fund, developed the bill in consultation with more than 150 groups in the United States and abroad.


With Ritu at the helm, Women Thrive Worldwide has received numerous awards from prestigious agencies, including: Charity Navigator, Catalogue of Philanthropy, Working Mother Magazine, Independent Charities of America and the Web Marketing Association. In May 2010, Ritu’s lifelong dedication to women’s issues was honored by Lifetime television as part of its series, Lifetime Celebrates Remarkable Women.


In addition to leading Women Thrive Worldwide, Ritu is a co-convener and principal of the Women, Faith and Development Alliance and the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network. She serves on the board of the U.S. Global Leadership Center (USGLC), the Pax World Women’s Advisory Council, and the Advisory Council of Men and Women as Allies.


A first generation American of East Indian heritage, Ritu’s family left behind generations of struggle in Punjab, India to build a new life in the United States. Her familial experiences prompted her to dedicate her life to helping women around the world.

At age 17, she left her home in Arizona and traveled to Wales to attend the United World College of the Atlantic, an international school started by HRH Prince of Wales. She returned to the United States to study at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. After graduating with a BSFS in international economics, Ritu went on to receive a Masters of Public Health from the Johns Hopkins University.

Her leadership skills were present early. In 1995, at age 26, she led a coalition of more than 100 organizations to influence the United Nations Summit on Social Development. Ritu also served on the official United States delegation to the Summit and later on the U.S. delegation to the United Nations General Assembly Session on Women, also known as “Beijing Plus Five.”

She now lives in Annapolis, Maryland with her two sons and their Portuguese water dog, Rio. When not leading Women Thrive Worldwide, you can find her in her sea kayak or in her pottery studio.

Nicole Kidman Testifies Ivawa Hearing

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Nicole Kidman testifies at IVAWA hearing

Published on:  October 21, 2009

On October 21, Nicole Kidman testified at the hearing on IVAWA and violence against women.

On Wednesday, October 21, 2009, the Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight held a hearing on violence against women worldwide, and the pending International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA). At the hearing actress Nicole Kidman, the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) Goodwill Ambassador, Mallika Dutt, Founder and Executive Director of Breakthrough, an anti-violence organization based in India, Melanne Verveer, U.S. State Department Ambassador-at-large for Global Women’s Issues, and U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Co-chair of the Women’s Caucus, testified. During Nicole Kidmans testimony she stated that, “Violence against women is not prosecuted because it is not a top government and urgent social priority. We can change this by exerting leadership, making wise investments and building local partnerships…IVAWA represents an effective cross-cutting approach that elevates the issue so it will count and be counted.”

10th Anniversary

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Celebrating a Decade of Change for Women Worldwide

Wednesday, September 10, 2008 at 06:00pm
On September 10, 2008, Women Thrive celebrated 10 successful years of advocating on behalf of women living in poverty.


Ten Years of Impact…
Ten Years of Partnership…
Ten Years of Transformation.

Women Thrive Worldwide’s Tenth Anniversary Awards Celebration

Wednesday, September 10, 2008
6:00 p.m. Reception
7:30 p.m. Dinner and Presentation
101 Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, D.C. 20001

On September 10, 2008 we recognized some of the brightest leaders in women’s economic empowerment: Congresswoman Nita Lowey, MCC CEO and Ambassador John Danilovich, MCA Nicaragua Director General Juan Sebastián Chamorro, and Imara Martínez of Consejo de Mujeres de Occidente, Nicaragua (read more about our awardees). We also celebrated how far we’ve come in helping women and families worldwide find their own paths out of poverty.

The evening started with a reception overlooking the Capitol, Thrive-tinis (our specialty cocktail), interactive art, and music from Latin America. It continued with an awards dinner, hosted by CNN anchor and reporter Carol Costello, and products from fair trade companies World of Good and the Amber Chand Gift Collection, and finished with desserts prepared with fair trade ingredients from Divine Chocolate.

Read the Event Program



We deeply appreciate the support of our Anniversary Celebration sponsors and Fair Trade partners who helped weave their message of hope throughout the evening. The following generous sponsors helped make the night a success:

Pax World Women’s Equity Fund

The Academy for Educational Development


Divine Chocolate



Mayer Brown LLP

Pink Magazine



World of Good


The Amber Chand Gift Collection


Honest Tea



Leadership for Women to Thrive Award

Congresswoman Nita Lowey (18th-NY)

Over her nine-terms as Congresswoman from New York and as Chair of the State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Subcommittee of the House of Representatives, Representative Nita Lowey has championed the rights of women and girls in the developing world.  She has ensured U.S. government support for women’s economic opportunity, education and healthcare, and has been a leading voice in Congress calling for greater investment in women and girls worldwide.

Read Congresswoman Lowey’s acceptance speech

Partnership for Women to Thrive Award

Ambassador John J. Danilovich, CEO, Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC)

Juan Sebastián Chamorro, Director General, Cuento Reto del Milenio, Nicaragua (MCA Nicaragua)

Imara Martínez, Consejo de Mujeres de Occidente, Nicaragua

Read Imara Martínez’s acceptance speech

This award recognizes that truly effective development requires partnership between donor governments, developing country governments, and local civil society. As CEO of one of the largest new U.S. international  assistance programs, Ambassador Danilovich has led the MCC to adopt an unprecedented gender policy, which integrates both women’s and men’s needs into the MCC’s work. The successful partnership of the MCC with the Nicaraguan government’s MCA team and the Nicaraguan women’s organization Consejo de Mujeres de Occidente has resulted in model programs which have had a powerful initial impact on the ground.

Host for the Evening:

Carol Costello, Anchor/Reporter, CNN

Carol Costello has been a reporter and anchor at CNN since 2001. She is a contributor to The Situation Room, previously contributed to American Morning and anchored CNN Daybreak, the network’s former early morning news program.  Costello has covered the 2008 presidential election, reported on the shooting at Virginia Tech, Hurricane Katrina, the tsunami in South East Asia and the Russian school hostage crisis and in 2003, anchored the coverage of the D.C.-area sniper case. She has interviewed four former Presidents and covered three presidential inaugurations. Costello joined CNN after five years as anchor and reporter at WJLA-TV in Washington, D.C. She has anchored and reported the news at WBAL-TV in Baltimore, WAKR-TV in Akron, Ohio, and WBNS-TV in Columbus, Ohio.

Costello’s work has been honored numerous times, including a 1991 Emmy Award for a special on crack and cocaine, a UPI award, several Associated Press awards and an Emmy nomination in 1993. Costello earned a degree in journalism from Kent State University in Kent, Ohio.