Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

One of my favorite columnists, Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, was on “Real Time with Bill Maher,” last night. Kristof has co-authored a book with Sheryl WuDunn, which I have yet to read, but will put it on list to do so. The book’s title is indicated above – “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.” In short, when women are oppressed, it is like trying to survive with half the sky. I have written about this in earlier posts, but merely from an economic growth standpoint, if a country or region oppresses women, they are competing with the rest of the world with only 1/2 of their intellectual capital. But, it obviously goes far deeper and broader than that.

A society that treats women as lesser citizens will not flourish long term. If you oppress women, you are relegating them to a subservient role, and through your teachings, make more women less inclined to “lean in” as Sheryl Sandberg is suggesting. Last night Kristof observed that the better educated a group of people are, both men and women tolerate far less the abuse and oppression of women. Just as bigotry has to be carefully taught per the song from “South Pacific,” the mal-treatment of women must be taught as well.

Kristof noted that it is not just the gang rapes in India that are now getting more attention and must stop, it is the mal-treatment by male family members of girls that needs to cease as well. To this point, I have seen data which suggests that when boys and girls witness or are victimized by domestic violence, they show a greater propensity as adults than others to either conduct such violence (if male) or associate with someone who is more controlling and could be violent toward them (if female). In other words, the boys are taught by example that it is OK to do this and women are taught they must allow it.

But, this extends beyond the borders of India into many places, especially in several African nations where rivals will rape, maim and abuse women and children. It extends to nations where certain religions make women subservient, where the rape of a wife by a husband is not a crime, e.g. It extends to nations where these same religions do not want to educate young girls as they may get ideas they can better themselves. This denial of education as a means to oppress a group of people is as old as any sin that exists today.

Kristof is optimistic about change. There is a movement that has education, games, film and advocates galore. Please check it out at www.halftheskymovement.org . I made the comment this week, that one of the best things that Hillary Clinton did as Secretary of State, was be a very visible and loud voice for women around the world. I posted last summer that one of the best ambassadors for the US were its female naval officers of very big ships. When Iraqi soldiers wanted to speak with the person in charge to a woman officer, she would respond, “I am in charge” and it made a huge impression.

This week a significant leader died – Margaret Thatcher. If you have not seen “Iron Lady” you must. Whether you agreed with all of her politics or not, she made a huge step forward for women and is to be commended. The fact people can openly disagree with her is evidence that she made a difference in moving the ball forward. And, like Jackie Robinson, she had to be tough as nails and not show weakness. The same is true for other great leaders such as Clinton, Golda Meir, Aung San Suu Kyi, Angela Merkel, Christine LaGarde, Nancy Pelosi, Condaleeza Rice and Madeleine Albright to name only a few. In the future, we need to have much longer lists to choose from.

Let me close with a different thought. We need to treat women fairly, just as we would anyone else. I often paraphrase the Golden Rule as they are words to live by – “treat others like you want to be treated.” There are no caveats to this rule. There are no race, sexual preference, ethinicity and especially gender caveats. If we do this simple task that Jesus implored us to do, we will pay it forward. If we teach our kids to do this, they will pay it forward. Just as bigotry has to be carefully taught, so should the Golden Rule. If we do, our world will be different. And, in many more places, the other half of the sky will be engaged, educated and valued trying to make it so.

10 thoughts on “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

  1. Very well said. I recall in the ’70’s working in Taiwan, where the department secretary, working at the “best” job a woman could hope to get in that society, held a PHD in Chemistry and engineering. What a huge waste of a desperately needed resource.

    • Thanks Barney. I was thinking about the homeless girl who won second prize at the Intel Science Award last year. What if one these girls has the ability to cure cancer and we would never know. Take care, BTG

  2. Expectation….raising that bar of excellence and achievement…and supporting the effort. Important when my own daughter was growing up…and now for my grand daughter. You are so correct BTG, it needs to be taught. There again is that word: EDUCATION.

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  4. my friend silvana and i were talking about this a few days ago; she is a great example of someone who will help negate the pass-along attitudes of her culture where women sometimes don’t get the respect they deserve. she doesn’t shrink into the shadows; that 24-year old is already making her voice be heard!

    • That is terrific. Standing up for yourself is important. I tell my kids, you need not be overtly adversarial to make your point, but you can firmly and politely say no. For a 24 year old to do that is remarkable. Take care, BTG

      • she is remarkale! she’s marched agaist mosanto and is active against the latest surprise about opening a protective area of the amazon to more drilling. she was one of a select few to attend a conference for students around the world in venezuela… she returned with her head swimming from the interaction – most from comparing cultures…

        her family looks at her with a bit of dismay as in, ‘where did you come from?’

      • She sounds terrific. Tell her this American is proud of what she is doing. I saw a piece tonight on the oil drilling. It looks like a fati compli. One scientist said, the government needs to have very tight controls, otherwise the oil cos. will run amok, which would be a disaster. Of course, if they could not do it at all, it would be better. Best regards, BTG

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