Abbas Be was held captive in a most brutal manner in a Delhi brothel. After she was freed, she returned to her home city of Hyderabad, became a bookbinder and now puts her sisters through school.
How does a newspaper stay relevant?
No publication has anything even vaguely resembling a comprehensive answer to that question, but in at least one section of the New York Times, for at least one day—Sunday, August 23—the editors have made their newspaper important by devoting the entire NY Times Magazine to the issue of oppression of women worldwide, and the absolute necessity—practical and ethical— of working for women’s rights.
It is not surprising that the central article in the magazine is written by Nicholas Kristof—together with his wife and fellow Pulitzer winner, Sheryl WuDunn, (and with gorgeous photos by Kay Grannan). Kristof is a deeply moral and discerning journalist who is unafraid of advocacy when he feels the cause is righteous.
The article is adapted from Kristof and WuDunn’s new book, Half the Sky, which will be released in early September.
Here is how it begins:
IN THE 19TH CENTURY, the paramount moral challenge was slavery. In the 20th century, it was totalitarianism. In this century, it is the brutality inflicted on so many women and girls around the globe: sex trafficking, acid attacks, bride burnings and mass rape.
Yet if the injustices that women in poor countries suffer are of paramount importance, in an economic and geopolitical sense the opportunity they represent is even greater. “Women hold up half the sky,” in the words of a Chinese saying, yet that’s mostly an aspiration: in a large slice of the world, girls are uneducated and women marginalized, and it’s not an accident that those same countries are disproportionately mired in poverty and riven by fundamentalism and chaos. There’s a growing recognition among everyone from the World Bank to the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff to aid organizations like CARE that focusing on women and girls is the most effective way to fight global poverty and extremism. That’s why foreign aid is increasingly directed to women. The world is awakening to a powerful truth: Women and girls aren’t the problem; they’re the solution.
The entire article is a shocking and impassioned call to action. For instance there is this:
The global statistics on the abuse of girls are numbing. It appears that more girls and women are now missing from the planet, precisely because they are female, than men were killed on the battlefield in all the wars of the 20th century. The number of victims of this routine “gendercide” far exceeds the number of people who were slaughtered in all the genocides of the 20th century.
For those women who live, mistreatment is sometimes shockingly brutal. If you’re reading this article, the phrase “gender discrimination” might conjure thoughts of unequal pay, underfinanced sports teams or unwanted touching from a boss. In the developing world, meanwhile, millions of women and girls are actually enslaved. While a precise number is hard to pin down, the International Labor Organization, a U.N. agency, estimates that at any one time there are 12.3 million people engaged in forced labor of all kinds, including sexual servitude. In Asia alone about one million children working in the sex trade are held in conditions indistinguishable from slavery, according to a U.N. report. Girls and women are locked in brothels and beaten if they resist, fed just enough to be kept alive and often sedated with drugs â€” to pacify them and often to cultivate addiction. India probably has more modern slaves than any other country.
Yet, Kristof and WuDunn’s purpose is not merely to catalog the horrors. They also come to us carrying armloads of victory stories, astonishing tales of courage displayed by women who, when given only the tiniest bit of help and rescue after ghastly abuse, were able to remake themselves into positive forces for thier families, their communities and themselves.
There are so many problems in our world that it is easy to recoil from the ungraspably large problem of women’s oppression worldwide. Yet, Kristof, WuDunn aim to convince us otherwise, that this complex and multi-faceted problem is in fact a remarkable and timely opportunity that we would be wise to embrace as if our lives depended upon it, which—in this globally intertwined new world of ours —our lives very well may.
In the early 1990s, the United Nations and the World Bank began to proclaim the potential resource that women and girls represent. “Investment in girls’ education may well be the highest-return investment available in the developing world,” Larry Summers wrote when he was chief economist of the World Bank. Private aid groups and foundations shifted gears as well. “Women are the key to ending hunger in Africa,” declared the Hunger Project. The Center for Global Development issued a major report explaining “why and how to put girls at the center of development.” CARE took women and girls as the centerpiece of its anti-poverty efforts. “Gender inequality hurts economic growth,” Goldman Sachs concluded in a 2008 research report that emphasized how much developing countries could improve their economic performance by educating girls.
Bill Gates recalls once being invited to speak in Saudi Arabia and finding himself facing a segregated audience. Four-fifths of the listeners were men, on the left. The remaining one-fifth were women, all covered in black cloaks and veils, on the right. A partition separated the two groups. Toward the end, in the question-and-answer session, a member of the audience noted that Saudi Arabia aimed to be one of the Top 10 countries in the world in technology by 2010 and asked if that was realistic. “Well, if you’re not fully utilizing half the talent in the country,” Gates said, “you’re not going to get too close to the Top 10.” The small group on the right erupted in wild cheering.
And here are easy ways that each of us can get involved.
PS: Also very much worth reading is Dexter Filkins’ story, A School Bus for Shamsia, about the struggle to keep a school for girls open in the heart of Taliban territory in Afghanistan.