One of the people who can be thanked for this kind of progress for poor women is Muhammad Yunus, the economics professor who won the Nobel Prize for his bank, Grameen Bank, which makes micro-loans that help women (96% of the bank's borrowers are women) help themselves and their families. Today, there are thousands of micro-credit institutions reaching tens of millions of clients around the world, and you can even find some online that you can personally get involved in.
One such company is called Kiva, which allows you to actually be the lender and have a hand in lifting a budding entrepreneur out of poverty. I think this is a fantastic concept, a "hand-up, not a handout" sort of situation. As with any situation where you are providing your own hard-earned money, I wouldn't be the Home Economist if I didn't encourage you to do your homework first, making sure that the money will go where you want it to.
I love seeing this sort of thing happen around the world. If banks could take a lesson from Grameen Bank and truly invest in people, not just their own fat bottom lines, what a change we could see! It is literally the exact opposite of the banking system we're used to... but isn't that a GOOD thing?