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Oprah Winfrey, Shonda Rhimes, Sheryl Sandberg, Melinda Gates, Bono, George Stroumboulopoulos, Sir Elton John Among Those Helping ONE Say: ‘Poverty is Sexist’

Open letter and new report highlight how girls and women in extreme poverty suffer the hardest

WASHINGTON — Oprah Winfrey, Shonda Rhimes, Sheryl Sandberg, Melinda Gates, Bono, George Stroumboulopoulos, Sir Elton John, and Muhammad Ali are just a few of the 86 high-profile signers of an open letter to world leaders released Monday declaring that ‘poverty is sexist’ against girls and women.

On the eve of International Women’s Day, The ONE Campaign and dozens of actors, musicians, journalists, business leaders, celebrities, and other strong voices for women have teamed up to tell lawmakers that extreme poverty hurts girls and women harder and in different ways than it does boys and men, and to demand targeted action to support girls and women.

It is outrageous that in 2016, girls account for 74 percent of all new HIV infections among adolescents in Africa, and 40 percent of women on the continent suffer from anemia, which results in 20 percent of maternal deaths. This, despite substantial evidence that investing in girls and women lifts everyone out of poverty more quickly.

ONE released three products as part of its Poverty is Sexist campaign today to help tell that story:
– An open letter signed by 86 leading voices for women around the world;
– A research report detailing how extreme poverty disproportionately affects girls and women; and
– A ranking of the 20 toughest places on earth to be born a girl.

Two hundred ONE members will also be on Capitol Hill on Tuesday meeting with lawmakers to advocate for specific policies that would address these problems.


The open letter, to which people can add their own signature at one.org/letter, will be delivered to President Obama and other world leaders. The letter — which concludes: “International Women’s Day must be about advancing girls and women everywhere” — has already been signed by:

Shonda Rhimes, Sheryl Sandberg, Oprah Winfrey, Melinda Gates, Bono, Sir Elton John, Angelique Kidjo, Meryl Streep, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Mark Ruffalo, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Patricia Arquette, Jennifer Lopez, Muhammad Ali, Condoleeza Rice, Mary J. Blige, Charlize Theron, Robert Redford, Jessie J, Connie Britton, Danai Gurira, Colin Farrell, Maria Shriver, Padma Lakshmi, Ashley Judd, George Stroumboulopoulos, Katie Holmes, Ruby Rose, Sean Parker, Lauren Bush Lauren, Thandie Newton, Arianna Huffington, Tina Brown, Paul Polman, Marc Benioff, and more. A full list of signers is below.

Shonda Rhimes, Creator and CEO of Shondaland, said:

“Think about the world we’d live in if more girls had the chance to grow up to be empowered women. Extreme poverty is choking the potential of generations of young women in the developing world. Poverty is sexist. It hits girls and women harder than it does boys and men, creating a real urgency that world leaders must address. That’s why I’m raising my voice and asking others to do the same.”

Bono, Lead singer, U2, and Co-Founder of ONE and (RED), said:

“ONE’s report is proof that ‘Poverty is Sexist’ isn’t just a phrase, it’s a fact. Women and girls face gender bias in every part of this world, but in the poorest places it doesn’t just harm, it can kill. When girls are the first in the family denied school or sometimes even basic nutrition, and when adolescent girls in Africa are getting infected by HIV three times as often as boys, that isn’t just discrimination — it’s a potential death sentence. Women are hit the hardest, but they are also leading the fight to pull not just themselves, but their communities out of poverty. It’s a fight that all of us — women and men — need to put our backs into.”

Quotes from Danai Gurira, Sir Elton John, and Angelique Kidjo are below


The report looks at the entire lifecycle of a female born into extreme poverty. She is more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS and anemia, has less access to education and proper maternal health care, is less likely to work outside the home but is more likely to be in vulnerable employment, and has a tougher time accessing capital to start or grow a business.

The report calls for policies that ensure legal equality for all and increased access to safe and reliable energy, which will particularly benefit girls and women. There must also be concerted efforts to connect everyone, particularly women, to the internet and further ensure that governments, businesses and civil society open up their own data so the public are able to see and account for progress. The full report can be found here.


The West African country of Niger was deemed the “toughest place to be born a girl” in a new analysis published within ONE’s 2016 Poverty is Sexist report. Researchers looked at seven educational, economic, health, and political indicators to rank every country on earth. Compared to their brothers, girls in Niger receive less education, less access to opportunities (such as opening a bank account), and are less likely to get paid work when they grow up. The index can be found in the report here.

Eloise Todd, Global Policy Director for The ONE Campaign said:

“ONE’s Poverty is Sexist report shows that the 20 toughest places to be born a girl are also among the poorest places on the planet. Until leaders tackle the injustices that pervade the lives of girls and women and invest in fighting poverty, half of the world’s resources will remain untapped and social and economic progress for everyone will be constrained. This year, governments around the world have the opportunity to step up in historic ways to fund replenishments at the Nutrition for Growth and the Global Fund. Investing in nutrition and health is essential for both women and girls and the fight against extreme poverty.”


2016 offers two major political opportunities to make a difference for girls and women and to kick start progress towards achieving the end of extreme poverty: the replenishment of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, and the Nutrition for Growth Summit.

These are crucial moments for nutrition and health because 40 percent of women in Africa suffer from anemia — which results in 20 percent of maternal deaths — and because girls account for 74 percent of all new HIV infections among adolescents in Africa. Smart investments in the Global Fund and Nutrition for Growth will make significant headway against these diseases, and targeting girls and women will ensure a maximum return on investment.

Two hundred ONE volunteers — including at least one from all 50 states — will be on Capitol Hill on Tuesday to lobby their Senators and Representatives to strengthen federal support for basic global nutrition programs and to urge continued support for the Global Fund.

Tom Hart, Executive Director for North America for The ONE Campaign said:

“Poverty is sexist. It hits women and girls harder in every way — in health, in education, and the economy. What’s happening here is special: People from across the country and around the world — policy wonks, celebrities, ONE members, and ordinary folks — are raising their voices about how extreme poverty disproportionately affects girls and women, urging lawmakers to take action to improve basic nutrition and halt the spread of HIV/AIDS. We’ve got an open letter from some of the world’s strongest voices for women, a new policy report, and 200 activists from around the country storming Capitol Hill — all working together to tackle this challenge this week. We’ve got a big few years ahead, and we want everyone to be a part of it.”


Danai Gurira, Actor and Award-Winning Playwright

“Poverty is sexist. We live in a world where women and girls suffer the brunt of extreme poverty and disadvantage, where being born female guarantees you the short end of the stick. Socially, economically, legally – girls and women living in the poorest countries get a raw deal simply because they are born female. Every day, in every corner of the world, they are stopped from reaching their full potential. This is still true in America and in Europe, but it is especially true in the developing world. Each of us has an opportunity and a responsibility to speak out and demand action.”

Angelique Kidjo, Grammy Award-Winning Artist and Activist said

“The future of Africa is in the hands of its young women. If they are educated, they will educate their communities. If they are healthy, they will ensure others grow up healthy. If they are empowered, they will change the world. We can break the cycle of poverty, but we have to invest in girls and women to do it.”

Sir Elton John, Founder of the Elton John AIDS Foundation said:

“Three out of every four adolescents in Africa who contract HIV are girls, and on average, women in sub-Saharan Africa who contract HIV will do so five to seven years earlier than men. It’s heartbreaking. Stopping the spread of HIV will mean doing more to protect girls and young women. The Global Fund is doing powerful work helping treat and prevent AIDS and deserves expanded support from world leaders. We have the chance to stop HIV/AIDS in our lifetime, and we need to raise our voices now to make sure it happens.”


  • ONE released its first Poverty is Sexist report in 2015, pressuring leaders to put girls and women at the heart of key policies and decisions. This year, in its second Poverty is Sexist report ONE is calling for progress on gender in 10 specific and crucial areas, including nutrition, health, connectivity, data and accountability.
  • ONE’s ask for the Nutrition for Growth II conference in Rio de Janeiro in August: Governments must commit historic increases in new and additional funding at the Nutrition for Growth II summit, and must adopt policies to strengthen data, improve accountability and build global leadership on nutrition.
  • ONE’s ask for the Global Fund replenishment: Global Fund contributors must raise at least $13 billion to fight HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria at this year’s replenishment round.
  • ONE’s Poverty is Sexist campaign 2016 launches on International Women’s Day and will run throughout the year. ONE will work in close partnership with organisations engaged on thematic issues, and on gender, to make sure that investments targeted towards girls and women deliver the empowerment and equality needed.

The full list of high-profile names signing the open letter follows:

Ali Hewson, Founder, Edun and Nude
Alyse Nelson, President & CEO, Vital Voices Global Partnership
Aminatou Sow, Digital Strategist, Co-Host, Call Your Girlfriend podcast
Amy Poehler, Producer, Actor and Co-Founder of Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls
Andrew Zimmern, Chef
Andrew Hozier-Byrne, Musician
Angelique Kidjo, Grammy Award-Winning Artist and Activist
Ann Friedman, Columnist, New York Magazine, Co-Host, Call Your Girlfriend podcast
Anna Loos, Actress
Anne V, Model
Anne-Marie Slaughter, President & CEO, New America
Arianna Huffington, Co-Founder, President and Editor-in-Chief of the Huffington Post Media Group
Arielle T, Singer and Activist
Asa, Singer, Songwriter and Musician
Ashley Judd
Bobby Shriver, Co-Founder, ONE and (RED)
Bono, Lead singer, U2 and Co-Founder of ONE and (RED)
Caitlin Moran, Journalist, Broadcaster and Author
Carey Lowell, Artist and Actress
Carolin Kebekus, Comedian
Charlize Theron, Founder of Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project and UN Messenger of Peace
Cindi Leive, Editor-in-Chief, Glamour
Colin Farrell, Actor
Condoleezza Rice, Denning Professor in Global Business and the Economy at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, the Thomas and Barbara Stephenson Senior Fellow on Public Policy at the Hoover Institution, Founding partner of RiceHadleyGates, LLC
Connie Britton, Emmy-Nominated Actress
D’Banj, Singer and Activist
Danai Gurira, Actor and Award-Winning Playwright
Derreck Kayongo, CEO, National Center for Civil and Human Rights
Elsie Kanza, Head of Africa, Member of Executive Committee, Africa World Economic Forum
Sir Elton John, Founder, The Elton John AIDS Foundation
Emma Freud, Writer and Broadcaster
Ertharin Cousin, Executive Director, World Food Programme
Femi Kuti, Musician
Gabriela, African Pop Star
George Stroumboulopoulos, Television and Radio Personality
Helen Clark, Administrator, United Nations Development Programme
Helene Gayle, CEO, McKinsey Social Initiative
Jeff Skoll, Social Entrepreneur, Founder & Chairman of the Skoll Foundation, Participant Media, Skoll Global Threats Fund, and Capricorn Investment Group
Jennifer Lopez, Entertainer, Entrepreneur and UN Advocate for Girls and Women
Jessie J
John Green, Author and YouTuber
Jude Kelly CBE
Judith Sephuma, South African Musician, Jazz and Gospel Artist
Kakenya Ntaiya, Founder & President, Kakenya Center for Excellence
Karen Kornbluh, Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations
Kathy Calvin, President & Chief Executive Officer, United Nations Foundation
Katie Holmes
Katja Iversen, CEO, Women Deliver
Laura Ling, Correspondent, Discovery Digital Networks
Lauren Bush Lauren, CEO & Co-Founder of FEED Projects
Lea DeLaria
Lilly Singh, Comedian, Writer and YouTuber
Lonnie Ali, Wife of Muhammad Ali and Co-Founder of The Muhammad Ali Center
Luvvie Ajayi, Writer, Digital Strategist and Executive Director, The Red Pump Project
Mabel van Oranje, Initiator & Chair, Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage
Marc Benioff, Chairman & CEO, Salesforce
Maria Shriver, Award-Winning Journalist and Founder of Shriver Media
Marian Salzman, CEO, Havas PR
Mark Ruffalo
Mary J Blige, Artist and Activist
Melinda Gates, Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Meryl Streep
Michele Sullivan, President, Caterpillar Foundation
Muhammad Ali, 3X World Heavyweight Champion and Global Humanitarian
Oprah Winfrey, Chairman & CEO, Oprah Media Group
Padma Lakshmi, Author and Host of Top Chef
Patricia Arquette, Actor and Activist
Paul Polman, CEO, Unilever
Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women
Rea Garvey, Musician
Robert Redford, Actor, Director and Environmental Activist
Rocky Dawuni, Grammy-Nominated International Music Star and Humanitarian Activist
Ruby Rose, Actress
Sarah Degnan Kambou, President, International Center for Research on Women (ICRW)
Sean Parker, President of the Parker Foundation
Selmor Mtukudzi, Zimbabwean Musician
Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer, Facebook
Sheryl WuDunn, Co-Author, Half the Sky and A Path Appears
Shonda Rhimes, Creator & CEO, Shondaland
Tété, Singer and Songwriter
Thandie Newton, Actress
Tina Fey, Writer, Actress and Producer
Tina Brown, Founder & CEO, Tina Brown Live Media and Women in the World
Vanessa Mdee, Afro Pop Musician
Victoria Kimani, African Pop Artiste
Yemi Alade, International Award Winner “MAMA AFRICA”