Focus on Women

Gifts that Give Back

November 29th, 2010 . by Cathy Standiford

If you could buy a gift that improves the life of a woman or girl, would you?  I sure would.  Today there are a number of companies that are helping women in developing countries earn a living by providing access to the world market.  The following Los Angeles Times story profiles several companies who guarantee that the money raised through the sale of products goes back to support the artisans who created them.  Notice that all of these companies were founded  by women–and most of the beneficiaries are women, too.,0,5738466.story

P.S. —  I’ve added a Soulgems Window-Freedom necklace to my wish list–the proceeds go to fight human trafficking in Nebal, Cambodia, Thailand and Zimbabwe.  See how silver sterling jewelry can be the gift that gives back at

Why Focusing on Women Matters

November 27th, 2010 . by Cathy Standiford

I came across a little clip from last year’s Clinton Global Initiative Summit.  In it, Melinda Gates and former US President Bill Clinton discuss why the economic empowerment of women is the key to eradicating poverty, and why focusing on improving the lives of women and girls is so important.  To see the clip and comments from other inspiring participants, click here.

Lifting the Veil — Courage in Yemen

November 22nd, 2010 . by Cathy Standiford

The recent attempts to transport bombs on UPS planes have cemented Yemen’s image as a terrorist-harboring country.  But in that country (as in many around the world), there are women who advocate for their rights and the opportunity to be heard.   Women like Amal Basha.  Amal is a persistent advocate for women’s rights in Yemen, and in a country where women are kept “invisible,” behind chadors and burkas, she refuses to cover her hair or face with a veil.  It’s women like Amal who give me hope that the world will be better for women and girls one day.  Read the Los Angeles Times‘ coverage of her incredible work here:,0,3684784.story

Women and Caregiving

November 15th, 2010 . by Cathy Standiford

Last week I needed to help my husband with a family crisis.  My husband is an only child, and his parents are in their 80′s.  They have always been very self-sufficient–until about 10 days ago when my 89-year old father-in-law could no longer stand on his own.  Too big for my mother-in-law to lift him, they both needed help, and fast.

So my husband and I stepped in to help.  (Because he is an “only child,” there really wasn’t anyone else for them to call.)  Cooking, cleaning, emotional support, transferring Dad from chair to bed to toilet and back–after about 3 days, we realized that we couldn’t provide them with the kind of ongoing help they really needed.  After many, many, many phone calls, we finally found an agency that could help–at $240 per day.  It’s a temporary fix to a long-term issue, but it buys us enough time to evaluate what the options are and what resources my in-laws have, to help them make the best decision for their future needs.

From my own recent experience, I have learned how important–and how exhausting–caregiving is.  My husband and I have contacts and resources that helped.  I can’t imagine how difficult this would be for someone who has neither.

So, I did a little research on caregiving, and here’s what I found learned from the Family Caregiver Alliance of the National Center on Caregiving.

  • 65% of older persons in the US with long-term care needs rely exclusively on family and friends to provide assistance.  The ability of family and friends to provide care determines whether they can remain in their homes.
  • Women provide the majority of informal care to spouses, parents, parents-in-law, friends, and neighbors.
  • The average caregiver is 46, female, married, and working outside the home
  • Although men (like my husband) also provide assistance, female caregivers may spend as much as 50% more time providing care than male caregivers.

And if you are a working woman, caregiving can pose significant financial challenges, particularly in the form of to lost wages from reduced work hours.  The Alliance reports:

Women don’t abandon their caregiving responsibilities because of employment.  Instead they cope–to the best of their abilities–with the combined pressures of caring for a loved one, their need for income, reliance on often inadequate public programs and fewer employment-related benefits.

That was my own experience.  I lost approximately 20 hours of work time last week because I needed to help care for my in-laws.  I’m no longer on a salary–so that lost 20 hours translates into lost income for this month.

What I learned after just one week is there are only so many hours in the day.  There is only so much energy I can contribute.  The kind of caregiving my in-laws need is very expensive. 

Whether you have children or not, there is a type of insurance that is becoming more critical in an era of longer lifespans.  It’s called long-term care insurance.  The younger you are when you purchase it, the less expensive the premiums are.  Long-term care insurance increases the options available to care for you if ane when you need it.  My husband and I purchased long-term care insurance for us 15 years ago.  It remains one of the smartest things we have ever done to secure our future.

Faces of Poverty and What They Tell Us

November 8th, 2010 . by Cathy Standiford

Every now and then I read an article that stops and makes me think.  This one did on Saturday.,0,5955450.column

It tells the stories of volunteers helping out a nonprofit organization that’s gearing up to distribute food, clothing and toys to families in need for the holidays.  The volunteers are doing site visits to determine levels of need.  The choices are “needy,” “truly needy,” or “extra needy.” 

What struck me about the stories was how many of them are about women.  Women battling cancer while caring for a mother who also is battling cancer.  Women whose husband has been deported, leaving them to care for their children alone.  Women who are living in converted garages with their families because that’s all they can afford at minimum wage.  Women who are asking for school uniforms for their girls so they can go to school. 

In just a few weeks, the applications for the Soroptimist Women’s Opportunity Award will be due to local Soroptimist clubs.  Last year Soroptimist distributed more than $1.2 million dollars to women to help them improve their economic status and that of their families by supporting their educational goals.  Many of these women had similar stories to the women highlighted in this article.  They just needed a little hand to help them acheive their educational dreams to lift them out of poverty.

This article reminds me that there are many women out there who need our help.  We need to be relentless in finding them.  Yes, many of the stories are about women who are undocumented.  But we have had many successful Women’s Opportunity Award recipients who started out that way.  There are faces of impoverished women in your community.  Look for them, listen to their stories, and help them complete an application for a Women’s Opportunity Award.  It could be their first step from “truly” or “extra needy” into a life of economic self-sufficiency.

How Well Is Your Country Addressing Modern Slavery?

November 4th, 2010 . by Cathy Standiford

Every year the United States State Department produces the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, which rates governments around the world for their efforts to combat human trafficking through prevention, the provision of victim services and enforcement.  The report itself is really long, but you don’t have to purchase or download the report to see how your country is doing.   The State Department has created an interactive map that summarizes the report’s findings.

For more information about the trafficking of women and girls and what Soroptimists are doing to stop it, visit

More Women’s Stories About the Violence They Experienced

November 2nd, 2010 . by Cathy Standiford

Here’s another brief video sharing the stories of women and girls who have been subjected to violence and abuse.  Have you called or emailed your Senator or Congressional representative urging passage of the International Violence Against Women Act yet?