This International Women's Day, invest in our future

Jill Sheffield, founder and president of Women Deliver. Photo by: Women Deliver

Throughout the last three decades, I’ve dedicated my life’s work to improving the health and well-being of girls and women. I have tremendous gratitude for the trailblazers who made this possible — those around the globe who spoke up for the health and rights of girls and women even when it was unpopular or dangerous to do so. They have made possible all the progress we’ve seen, and inspire me to keep striving for more.

On this International Women’s Day, I want to look ahead to the future and celebrate the young men and women, many of whom weren’t even born when I began my journey, who are not only picking up the torch to advocate for women’s rights, but are carrying it with new fervor, passion and creative thinking.

Now is the time to deepen our investment — both in time and money — in supporting these new champions with new ideas and solutions to improve the education and health of and achieve equality for girls and women. While we have certainly made progress on these issues, we do not need to look very far to realize there is so much more to be done.

Worldwide, women work two-thirds of the world’s hours, yet earn just one-tenth of the world’s income. Nearly 300,000 women and girls still die needlessly in pregnancy and childbirth and unfairly lack access to basic health care, including family planning. And 31 million girls of primary school age are not enrolled, while every day thousands are forced into early marriage.

Clearly, more investments are needed. Girls and women are at the heart of development. They are the seeds of growth and the engines of power. Improving the livelihood of girls and women is central to the success of broader development goals, such as reducing poverty and hunger, improving maternal health and increasing overall economic growth and stability. We know that investing in girls and women isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also the smart thing to do.

When you think about it that way, why would we do anything else but invest more?

We will have more to celebrate on International Women’s Day in the future if we invest in girls and women now. They are the world’s farmers, business leaders, doctors, lawyers and caretakers who can help shape and drive a more equitable future for all.

For the past several years, Women Deliver has been doing our small part by investing in the future of young health and rights advocates. Our 100 Young Leaders program supports a cadre of young advocates through scholarships, leadership opportunities and intensive training. They are already doing amazing things in their communities, and we know that they can go on to do even greater things with support and guidance.

This International Women’s Day, we are deepening our investments in the future of girls and women and are proud to announce seed grants of $5,000 to 10 of our Young Leaders. These grants are investments in their investments, supporting fledgling and innovative projects to improve the lives of girls and women in their communities, from Asia to Africa to Latin America.

These projects range from helping young urban mothers become agents of change for ending teen pregnancy in Mexico to developing social media platforms to increase access to youth-friendly services and information in Uganda. And, we are asking the public to vote for the project they think will have the greatest impact, to which we will award an additional $500.

These first-ever seed grants were made possible by the support of Johnson & Johnson and WomanCare Global, two members of Women Deliver’s C-Exchange, a program to foster public-private partnerships for the benefit of women and girls. As the C-Exchange demonstrates, engagement from corporate partners is not only possible but necessary if we are going to amplify the progress on women and girls. This kind of private sector support for young leaders is groundbreaking and inspiring — and we know that their investment in our collective future will pay massive social and economic dividends.

This International Women’s Day, while we should honor and appreciate the hard-won battles of advocates of the past, we all have the duty and opportunity to invest in those that will carry the torch after us. It’s time to invest more in girls and women — their health, their rights, their education and their leadership opportunities. We have the evidence that this is not just the right thing to do, but it is the smart thing to do because everyone benefits. The positive ripple effects are wide and deep, and at this moment in time, we can no longer afford not to be bold.

We’ll be announcing the winner of our online voting contest at 10am EST on March 21st during a Tweetchat with @WomenDeliver and youth seed grant awardees using the hashtag #SheBuilds. Join us to find out more about their amazing projects!

Want to learn more? Check out She Builds and tweet us using #SheBuilds.

She Builds is a month-long conversation hosted by Devex in partnership with Chemonics, Creative Associates, JBS International, the Millennium Challenge Corp., United Nations Office for Project Services and U.K. Department for International Development.

About the author

  • Jill headshot crop

    Jill Sheffield

    Jill Sheffield is the founder and President of Women Deliver, an international advocacy organization that convenes global leaders to galvanize action to improve the health and well-being of girls and women. Sheffield is a global educator and advocate who has worked to promote women’s health and rights around the world for more than three decades.