I know first-hand how education can change one’s life. Personal circumstances left me supporting myself and working full-time after high school. Those responsibilities, combined with the influence of others and a too-early marriage, led me away from college and into the work world. I soon came to realize that my economic prospects would always be limited without higher education, but I was married, trying to create a family, and uncertain how to proceed. Thankfully, the partners in the firm where I worked believed in me, and with their professional, emotional, and financial support, I earned a law degree at night. My marriage failed, but I thrived.

Now that I am remarried to a wonderful man, who shares his two terrific, very bright children with me, I constantly focus on how to make sure they both have every opportunity to receive the best education possible. They know that attending college is not optional.

Unfortunately millions of children in the world don’t have the opportunity to attend even one day of school. For girls in particular, a lack of education leaves them marginalized, at risk of sexual exploitation and violence, and mired in poverty. According to the Women’s Global Education Project, women account for 70 percent of the 1.4 billion people worldwide living in extreme poverty. Around the world, up to six out of every ten women experience physical or sexual violence. In countries like Chad, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and sub-Saharan Africa, most women have no legal rights, maternal death rates are high, female illiteracy is common, and women are subject to physical and sexual abuse, or even death by honor killings.

In the Western world, women continue to face challenges with gender bias. Additionally, the glass ceiling still exists in many parts. But these issues pale in comparison with the daily struggle millions of women face in merely keeping their families alive. Supporting initiatives to help women obtain education—a proven strategy to empower and lift them out of poverty—is one way that we can make a difference. The United Nations Girls Education Initiative strives to get more girls into school, and The Women’s Global Education Project focuses on fighting poverty by educating girls.

My experience has taught me that education empowers women, and allows them to make better decisions for themselves and their families.