(Photo: Frank Higio/World Vision)
This year on International Women's Day, women across the globe will gather to celebrate the successes, challenges, and joys of being a woman in the 21st century. Among those taking the time to celebrate the power of women this Thursday is Women of Vision (WOV), a volunteer ministry of women who are working to bring together the worlds of faith and international economic development to transform the lives of women and girls globally.
"Women of faith are finding their voices, saying we need to step out and speak out about these issues and use the gift that God has given us for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are suffering," WOV National Director Cynthia Breilh told The Christian Post. "This is the time for women of faith to stand up, engage, and get active and say, 'Look we are not going to stand by and let our sisters around the world be oppressed and live in poverty.'
"It's within their hands to change their lives if we just help raise awareness and be a voice for them."
WOV is a volunteer ministry of the well-known 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization World Vision.
World Vision serves as a Christian humanitarian organization to tackle the challenges of global poverty and injustice in over 100 countries around the world.
The volunteer ministry of WOV was developed 20 years ago when a group of women in Orange County, Calif., became inspired to make a difference in the world following ministry trips they had taken to Guatemala and Kenya. On the life changing trips, the women witnessed firsthand the plight of females in developing countries and determined that as women of faith it was time to come together and help their sisters of the world.
Today, WOV focuses its advocacy efforts largely around the issues of human trafficking and maternal and child health. The ministry has chapters throughout the United States and works to support various initiatives to assist, empower, and promote the rights of women and girls globally.
To celebrate the importance of International Women's Day, WOV held a three-day national conference in Washington, D.C., where the group launched a powerful new initiative known as "Strong Women, Strong World."
"Strong Women, Strong World" seeks to raise $15 million over the next five years to invest in programs focusing on vital concerns impacting women in five critical areas, including: maternal and child health; water, sanitation, and hygiene; education and leadership development; entrepreneurship; and justice, rights, and protection.
The financial support will go to programs operating in 13 countries where women struggle the most in the five areas of concern, including Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cambodia, India, Niger, Bolivia, Zambia, Dominican Republic, Sierra Leone, Mali, Kenya, Bangladesh, and Ethiopia.
Focusing their advocacy and programmatic efforts on women in developing countries is core to the WOV mission, as when women in poverty receive assistance, a ripple effect usually follows.
Women who receive assistance have an average return rate of 90 percent back to their families and communities, whereas men's returns to the family and community members average around 40 percent, according to Breilh.
"When we hear about women whose lives have been changed and they turn around and use that change for good it has a profound effect. It changes history," Breilh said.
Faith is central to the work of WOV as many global issues surrounding poverty and injustice are "issues of the heart," according to Breilh.
"This is what God is calling us to do, it is everything about our faith. There are multiple scriptures in the Bible that talk about this. True religion is caring for widows and orphans and releasing the chains of the oppressed."
Although WOV started its volunteer work decades ago, a growing interest and passion around empowering women and girls has emerged within communities of faith, academia, government, and within the development community itself. The newfound interest and efforts have helped to put the work of WOV in the spotlight of global humanitarian efforts.
"I think this whole movement is growing. I think in general there is a movement that empowering women and girls is key to success in poverty alleviation and changing the lives of communities," Breilh said.
Despite the fact that WOV operates on a vast global scale, helping those in need may not require individuals to quit their jobs to volunteer abroad with women and girls in developing countries.
"The message is always do what's in your own hands," Breilh said. "For some of us, God is simply calling on us be aware of those around us in need and to act on that because each one of us has a story and each one of us can become a part of God's work of justice and mercy in this world."