BY Sen. Amy Klobuchar, MN Daily

This month we celebrate International Women’s Month and the achievements of women across the world. Around Minnesota and the world, women continue to overcome great odds to achieve success for themselves and their families, communities and countries.

For example, in Rwanda — a country that is only beginning to recover from the horrors of the 1994 genocide — women won 45 of 80 seats in last year’s Parliamentary elections . More broadly, the global portion of parliamentary seats held by women reached a high of 18 percent in 2008, and nearly all regions of the world have increased access to primary education for girls.

While these gains represent real, historic progress, we still have a long way to go to empower women across the globe.

Of the 1.2 billion people living in poverty around the world, 70 percent are women. According to a 2008 progress report on the Millennium Development Goals , more than 500,000 women in developing countries still die each year from complications of childbirth. These conditions are shameful.

Today, far too many women across the world face oppression and violence simply because of their gender. Too many women are treated as second-class citizens when it comes to their health. And too many young girls are denied the education they need to succeed.

I never thought a newspaper article could make me cry until I read one about the young girls in Afghanistan who had acid thrown in their faces just because they wanted to go to school.

It’s heartbreaking — and we don’t have to accept it. Together, we can speak out for those whose voices have been ignored for too long — because all women should have access to health care. All women should have access to education. And all women should be allowed to live their lives free of fear.

The United States has always represented a beacon of hope and opportunity to oppressed peoples across the world, and today we should all reaffirm our commitment to promoting justice and equality. The full realization of women’s rights is vital to the development and well-being of people of all nations.

As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I will continue my work on issues of justice for women — everything from violence against women to equal opportunity. And I encourage the people of Minnesota and elsewhere to join me in taking action to help bring hope and real results to women around the world who face hardships.

It can be as simple as getting your family, friends or colleagues together to discuss the issue. Or maybe you’ll decide to support a microfinance organization, which provides small loans to women so they can start their own businesses in poor communities. Or, perhaps you’ll decide to add your voice to the global advocacy organization ONE, which has 38,000 active members in Minnesota who are raising awareness of global poverty and calling on leaders to put proven solutions to work for the world’s poor. Later this year, I will be a proud participant in the launch of ONE’s first women’s empowerment project, which will engage members to organize in their communities and advocate for real global change.

I sense a new optimism in our country. The challenges we face here at home and across the world are great, but as I travel Minnesota, I have seen the unique spirit and courage that have always been America’s greatest strengths. It’s time for each one of us to take responsibility and help move our nation and our world forward with unity and common purpose.

Amy Klobuchar is a United States Senator from Minnesota and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.