Picturing a World Where Women Are Empowered and Valued

By Christine Cupaiuolo — August 24, 2009

Women in the developing world are the focus of the Aug. 23 edition of The New York Times Magazine.

The main feature is an essay adapted from a new book by Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff and former Times correspondent Sheryl Wudunn. Titled “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide,” the book and its companion website look at three major abuses against women: sex trafficking and forced prostitution; gender-based violence including honor killings and mass rape; and maternal mortality. Here’s the intro:

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.

Change, however, may not be that simple. In a separate article, “The Daughter Deficit,” Tina Rosenberg probes why discrimination against girls persists even among wealthier, more developed areas:

To be sure, development can eventually lead to more equal treatment for girls: South Korea’s birth ratios are now approaching normality. But policymakers need to realize that this type of development works slowly and mainly indirectly, by softening a son-centered culture. The solution is not to abandon development or to stop providing, say, microcredit to women. But these efforts should be joined by an awareness of the unintended consequences of development and by efforts, aimed at parents, to weaken the cultural preference for sons.

Other stories in this magazine issue look at women and philanthropy; a Q & A with Secretary of State Hilary Clinton on plans to push women’s rights issues on the international stage; a reporter returns to a school for girls in Afghanistan that was the site of a violent attack; an interview with Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the only female head of state in Africa; a look at the “feminist hawk” position that advocates the use of force to aid women; and a poignant “Lives” column that concludes with an HIV-positive 16-year-old’s simple plea: a safe place to be a girl.

Plus: If you want to share the work that you’re doing to educate and empower women, Kristof is collecting personal stories on his blog that describe efforts by individuals and organizations worldwide. Some of the submissions will be highlighted in future columns; three winners will be chosen to receive a signed copy of the book.

2 responses to “Picturing a World Where Women Are Empowered and Valued”

  1. Sheryl Wudunn & Nicholas Kristof’s “Women’s Crusade” article in the New York Times magazine contains searing and moving exposure of the horrific conditions of women around the globe and this is most necessary. But what they prescribe as the way forward along with their blotting out 27 years of pathbreaking history is dangerous. Sunsara Taylor has written and spoken on this widely.

    Listen to her response to Wudunn & Kristof’s NYTimes magazine article: http://sunsara.blogspot.com/2009/08/sunsara-taylor-speaking-against.html

    And read A Declaration: For Women’s Liberation and the Emancipation of All Humanity: http://www.revcom.us/a/158/Declaration-en.html

  2. this is an amazing blog. I work to end violence against women and girls in CA. Although the horrors of conditions in developing nations are much greater, violence against women and girls cripples all societies. I often think about Virginia Wolfe’s poignant essay “A Room of One’s Own” and dream of a time when the oppression ceases and we all have a room of our own. What a different world we will live in.


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