Half the Sky – a needed relook on the global maltreatment of women and girls

The following piece was posted about eight years ago, but it remains relevant in today’s world. With the Taliban re-seizing control, it shows how any forward progress for women and girls can be jeopardized with more autocratic rule. We must also guard against the ice-picking away of women’s rights even here in the US.

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 maltreatment 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 maltreatment 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 saying this directly 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.

Note: Since I wrote this I have read “Half the Sky.” It is an excellent book, but one of the toughest books I have ever read. It will frustrate you as it delves into girls being sold to adult men for marriage at very early ages such as twelve or thirteen. It speaks to such girls having babies long before their bodies are ready, so vaginal tearing occurs and can lead to an infection known as fistula, where bowel movements leak into such wounds. It speaks of genital mutilation which occurs in some religions which is forced upon teens without their consent.

A Path Appears – Women and Children need our help

Our friend Debra (see link below) has written a review of the much-needed book by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn called “Half the Sky.” This is one of the toughest reads you will ever take on as it discusses how women are maltreated around the globe. In addition to how awful it is to the women and children who are subject to this maltreatment including rape, sex slavery, genital mutilation, fistula due to births before the body is able, and domestic violence, it discusses the economic detriment to those communities. The book is based on the Chinese proverb that women hold up half the sky, so if you treat them poorly, you are devaluing your economy, competing with one arm tied behind your back in a world that will leave you behind.

https://debrabooks.wordpress.com/2015/02/16/who-cares-about-poor-women/

Kristof and WuDunn have followed up their first book with one called “A Path Appears,” which expands on these issues, but discusses how we can make a difference. We can find a path forward to help women, children and communities in need and how it will do the giver as much good as the receiver. Attached is a New York Times review which provides a review and summary of the book. I have yet to read this book, but have seen the two authors interviewed on PBS Newshour as they discuss how each of us can play a role in helping others.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/19/books/review/a-path-appears-by-nicholas-kristof-and-sheryl-wudunn.html?_r=0

An additional book worth reading on this subject is penned by former President Jimmy Carter called “A Call to Action.” It leverages further the work of Kristof and WuDunn, but brings the arguments home to America as well as speaking to the global problem. While we are only beginning to give notoriety to sexual abuse in the US military and on our college campuses after long ignoring the problems, while we are finally highlighting the impact and prevalence of domestic violence toward women that occurs in our society, we are still largely unaware that we have a non-inconsequential sex trafficking industry within America. We have sex slaves being brought in from other countries in addition to the women stolen from within our own communities.

I have read Carter’s book as well and find his arguments and anecdotes compelling. It is also a difficult, but must read. Carter has been one of the best ex-Presidents we have ever had. He has done more good for humanitarian causes and his voice is a powerful one and full of substance. We should heed his, Kristof and WuDunn’s messages and begin to better address the maltreatment of women.

Our world needs stronger positioning of women. We see the wonderful examples with Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, Christine LaGarde, Director of the International Monetary Fund, and Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the Prime Minister of Denmark, to name only a few, but need more. When Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, while not the first female, she was the most widely known ambassador of the US and made a huge difference to the issue of helping women.

But, we cannot wait on more women to get in power. We all need to see the wisdom of treating women and children fairly and as we would want to be treated. We all need to see that if we devalue women, we are limiting idea creation, market opportunities and good governance in our country and communities. We all need to see that treating a human being like property is not in keeping with the overarching messages of religious texts or answering well the Christian question of WWJD? What would Jesus do? He would treat women like he would want to be treated.