“Women hold up half the sky” – Chinese proverb 


Exactly a year ago today I was in Xela, Guatemala on a week long volunteer and spanish immersion trip when I heard the noise off in the distance. It sounded like a parade. I asked my teacher Lilian if she knew what on earth was going on and she replied with a smile, “It’s International Women’s Day!” and asked if I’d like to go see the festivities. I had never heard of International Women’s Day before yet it sounded spectacular. I packed up my school work and Lilian and me were off in a flash to the main square.

There I watched in awe and joy how a community could come together as one and celebrate the rights and beauty of women. It was so incredibly touching that I rushed home and instantly wrote a post on the experience titled “El dia de la mujer in Xela, Guatemala“. Even a year later, the memory of that day will forever be engrained in my heart. It was beautiful so heartbreaking yet also so full of hope.


Violence against women is an enormous problem in Guatemala and sometimes women are victims of abuse and even murder. Lillian told me that this was the first time she remembered having so many men participate in International Women’s Day and was hopeful that it would lead to change.

International Women’s Day was born in the United States in the early 1900’s during the storm of the industrial revolution, a time of tremendous progress yet rife with enormous ideological and societal change.  Women’s inequality and oppression was creating more and more unrest and women began to come together using their voice and mass influence to demand change.  The birth of a worldwide movement to celebrate, recognize, and inspire women’s achievement as well as demand for progress in women’s rights was officially established in 1910 and has been honored on March 8th ever since.

Today, thousands of events are held all across the world in honor of International Women’s Day and this day is even a holiday in some countries such as Afghanistan that have been known to foster some of the most severe oppression of women in the world.


Local Mayan women and child watching the International Women’s Day celebration in Xela, Guatemala on March 8, 2012.

A year after that trip to Guatemala, my life has changed immensely. I have gone from a person who simply read the tragic stories about women around the world, to someone who is trying my absolute hardest to advocate for them and make change. My eyes have been opened to the struggles and challenges that so many women face daily around the world. The inequality, abuse, rape, honor killing, workload, lack of education, lack of access to health care and degrading status of girls and women in society, is utterly heartbreaking. I no longer can be that American women standing still and doing nothing. I’ve decided that I’ve got to act. It is a life-long journey that may not change the world. However, if I can help just help one girl or woman live a life of dignity and respect than it will be worth it.


Trafficking is estimated to be $32 billion industry, affecting 161 countries worldwide (Polaris Project)

IMG_0747_Snapseed“Around the world, women tend to be in poverty at greater rates than men. The United Nations reported in 1997 that 70 percent of 1.3 billion people in poverty worldwide are women, while American Community Survey data from 2009 tells us that 55.2 percent of the 42.9 million people living in poverty in the United States are women and girls”. (Institute for Women’s Policy Research). 

IMG_0863_Snapseed Globally, more than 600 million girls live in the developing world and of that number, 77.6 million girls are currently not enrolled. (10 x 10)IMG_0578_Snapseed “Every two minutes a woman dies from complications related to pregnancy.”  (Maternity Worldwide)

IMG_0668_Snapseed“It is estimated that Sub-Saharan Africa alone loses 40 billion hours per year collecting water and women are the primary collectors of water” (United Nations). 

IMG_0600_SnapseedOf 163 million illiterate youth in the world, more than half – 63 percent-are female”. (10 x 10)

P1010245_Snapseed“One girl in seven in developing countries marries before age 15”. (10 x 10)


“Around the world, 250 million adolescent girls live in poverty.” (10 x 10)

Women are often the ones to remain uneducated and poor with little or no economic future. 


What you can do to learn more and educate yourself on Women’s Issues:

Visit the International Women’s Day 2013 website for listings of worldwide events and YouTube videos to share.

Read two amazing books on Women’s status (these books changed my life):

  • “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” by Nicolas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
  • “War Is Not Over When It’s Over” by Ann Jones.

Microfinance small women’s businesses by joining Kiva. (I’ve done this for two years since I read Half the Sky and I’m amazed that they do pay you back!)

Spread the word (like, share, tweet or just talk about it with your friends). Otherwise change will never happen.

This post was written as part of my work with the Global Team of 200, a group of women bloggers who aim to raise awareness of social issues and change the world. To learn more about the Global Team of 200, click here. 

It is also part of Where’s my Backpack’s Travel Theme: International Women’s Day. 


    1. So glad you enjoyed! I can’t believe I was there taking these pictures and watching Int’t Womens Day unravel before my eyes just a year ago today, as I type!

  1. amiga, this is an outstanding post! the images alone are all breathtaking! you are such a kind and dear woman, and i am so proud to watch you grow even stronger as you find your voice that makes a difference in our world.
    buen trabajo!

    1. Oh Lisa….your words are incredibly touching. Thank you so much! Sometimes I worry that I am steering too much towards advocacy in my blog but like I’ve always said, you can’t travel and see the world without fully seeing it, good and bad. That is why I do what I do! 🙂 Thanks for your support!

      1. Spending time abroad, witnessing others who have so little yet have such serenity and peace will affect the hardest of hearts. The sensitive ones return home with an altered view.. I think with each trip one sees it more. We are lucky that we’ve been able to witness so much and we do what we can to share that with others.

      2. I completely agree. The more I travel and each time I go abroad, I come back a changed person and I would argue a better person. I am so fortunate for being able to travel and see the world. Many can’t. But I know too that because of this luxury I need to dedicate my life to helping others and educating with ones who have never left home about what beauty and suffering there is in the world. 🙂

      1. Some of our partners sent beautiful flowers to the office, but I forgot to take a photo. Woman’s day in China is pretty commercial, lots of sales and most female employees get a half day off work.

      2. Too bad it is commercial as it has so much meaning and could really help with the advancement of women if they had a platform for their voice.

    1. So glad you enjoyed! Yes it is a beautiful place. I hope the women get the dignity and respect they deserve. They have a long way to go but are making progress. 🙂

  2. Nicole, these images are striking. I had no idea that women were honored in this manner in Latin American countries. You have definitely found your voice and I feel so honored to be a part of your journey.

  3. A wonderful post with a great call to action! It still amazes me to see your photographs and recognize many of the same places — to think that we were on the same streets in the same towns just a week apart. It is indeed a small world and everyone in it, men and women, deserves respect.

    1. That’s right! Too bad you missed the International Womens Day. It was unbelievable and so special to see. I also see you have a post today on the subject. Once I’m done playing catch up I’ll take a look. Finally, I love Flagstaff! My parents live in Tucson and spend the summers in ShowLow. We’ve taken a few trips to Flagstaff as well.

  4. These are important messages. Thank you, Nicole! It’s a long, long journey, education probably is the only way to change it effectively…

    1. Ah thanks Jo! I just feel so obligated to do something. I know and understand how fortunate I am in so many ways. I’ve got to help out! 🙂

  5. You raise a difficult and important point; women are impacted by so much poverty and oppression and violence. We don’t always recognize or understand that in the US (even as it happens here, though usually to a much less obvious degree). Travel changes a person. Your post is poignant.

    1. I love it Ailsa! I feel this is perhaps one of the most meaningful posts I’ve written. There is so much to be done for girls and women around the world. I’m so excited that I found my path!

    1. Thanks! Did I tell you I’m going to India this May to interview women on maternal health issues and meet with Indian Social Good bloggers? I am so excited to be invited to go! Should be very interesting work!

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