It appears more girls have been killed in the last fifty years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the battles of the twentieth century. More girls are killed in this routine 'gendercide' in any one decade than people were slaughtered in all the genocides of the twentieth century.Last week a few friends and I had our first book club meeting. I've never been in a book club before, but I was extremely excited to be a part of this one. Our topic of study is Women, Development and Equality. Our first book was Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. It was INCREDIBLE! Truly. Kristof and WuDunn do an incredible job of bringing to light some of the most terrifying aspects of life for women across the world--from rape and honor killings, maternal mortality and fistulas, sex slavery and domestic abuse, they cover issues affecting women from every part of the world, and especially in developing countries. And yet, the book is hopeful and encouraging. Every chapter not only tells stories of women who have suffered under inequality and oppression placed upon women, but also stories of women who are standing up to these horrors and creating solutions and safe havens. There are some exceptionally inspirational women in this book. Women who should be our examples and our heroes.
In the nineteenth century, the central moral challenge was slavery. In the twentieth century, it was the battle against totalitarianism. We believe that in this century the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for gender equality around the world.-Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, Half the Sky
But in our book club we want to do more than just read and learn about these issues. We want to find ways to become proactive in changing the status of women around the world. One of the things we all agreed on is that more people need to know what is happening to women in the world!
So, we have decided to try to share more about these important issues with those we know. It isn't always easy. Some people scoff at us as "feminists" (which we all readily claim! But unfortunately, many people we know use the term "feminist" in an inappropriate and negative connotation, thus casting our views aside as extreme or insignificant). Others recoil from hearing about such horrific and brutal realities. And at times people listen and agree that the inequality and disempowerment of women is awful, but they can't see solutions and they want go no further. What we realized is, maybe we aren't getting our message across in the right way. Maybe we haven't helped others to see that not only are these issues real and pressing, but we are all complicit. We all bear responsibility. And there are things we can do to effect change.
Now we just have to figure out how to spread that message. We have to figure out what people need to know and hear. And then we have to share it. For me, this involves continuing to read and learn--about problems and solutions. It means finding talking points and ways to include women, development and human rights issues in my day to day conversations. And it means stepping up to the responsibilities I have and finding ways to contribute.
As part of that, I will be posting weekly here on my blog about these issues in one form or another. I say that now to hold myself accountable. I hope you will nag me if I slack off. And I hope you will help me by posting your insights, questions and concerns. Because, ultimately, this effort requires all of us. As Kristof so astutely says in Half the Sky:
"[I]f the international effort is dubbed a 'women's issue,' then it has already failed. The unfortunate reality is that women's issues are marginalized, and in any case, sex trafficking and mass rape should no more be seen as women's issues than slavery was a black issue of the Holocaust was a Jewish issue. These are all humanitarian concerns, transcending any one race gender, or creed."
photo: Maria Elena, Bolivia 2009