“The world is awakening to a powerful truth: Women and girls aren’t the problem; they’re the solution,” write Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn in the lead article of this Sunday’s The New York Times Magazine
In this special issue devoted to “Saving the World’s Women,” five articles document global failures and personal horrors, but also offer forward-looking solutions from the individual to the institutional. As the subtitle says—“changing the lives of women and girls in the developing world can change everything”— this vital effort can help us not only improve the lives of women, but meet larger goals including international security, global health, and economic development.
In “The Women’s Crusade,” Pulitzer Prize-winners Kristof and WuDunn, whose new book Half the Sky will be published on September 8, outline the ways in which the world’s women and girls are abused, neglected, and overlooked. They use devastating data to detail how women around the world suffer from lack of education, maternal mortality, sexual violence, trafficking, and economic and political oppression, and then bring these figures to life with women’s personal stories.
They argue that elevating women is not a “soft” issue, but rather has the power to transform economies and address security threats—a point echoed in an interview with Hillary Clinton, in which she calls women and girls “a core factor in our foreign policy.”
“I happen to believe that the transformation of women’s roles is the last great impediment to universal progress,” says Clinton, long an informed and passionate advocate for global women’s issues. She encouraged President Obama to create a new ambassadorship for global women’s issues, and filled the opening with Melanne Verveer, a respected activist and former head of the Vital Voices Global Partnership.
Clinton most strongly emphasizes the connection between women’s issues and national security, calling it “an absolute link”: “If you look at where we are fighting terrorism, there is a connection to groups that are making a stand against modernity, and that is most evident in their treatment of women.” She goes so far as to agree that spending taxpayer money on education and healthcare for girls and women in Pakistan would be more effective than military aid to the country.
“A woman who is safe enough in her own life to invest in her children and see them go to school is not going to have as many children. The resource battles over water and land will be diminished,” she says. “And it’s an issue of how we take hard power and soft power, so called, and use it to advance not just American ends but, in advancing global progress, we are making the world safer for our own children.”
Also in the magazine:
Dexter Filkins investigates the acid attacks on girl students in Afghanistan in the horrifyingly vivid storytelling he displayed in his best-seller, The Forever War.Lisa Belkin takes note of an emerging generation of female philanthropists using their money to “deliberately and systematically to aid women in need,” spurred by the Hunt sisters’ “Women Moving Millions” campaign.Tina Rosenberg describes how sex-selective abortion and inadequate health care for young girls has led to a “daughter deficit” in China and India, where, somewhat paradoxically, “development can worsen, not improve, traditional discrimination.”Africa’s first female President, Liberia’s Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, tells NYT that if women ran the world, it would be “better, safer and more productive.”
The New York Times’ website adds a slide show of Katy Grannan’s portraits of women in South Asia and Africa, and launches a contest soliciting personal stories from the field. Submit your photos and blog posts to Kristof’s blog by September 19.
To me, such vital voices are the most powerful, proving that the personal is political. The quotes in the lead article from academic studies, local NGO personnel, and women themselves map the way forward:
“When women command greater power, child health and nutrition improves” – Esther Duflo of MIT, on micro-finance.“Girls are just as good as boys” – An unidentified man who once beat his wife for not having sons, but changed his mind when a micro-loan turned her into the family breadwinner.“Gender inequality hurts economic growth” – Goldman Sachs, Global Economics Paper, 2008“I can’t talk about my children’s education when I’m not educated myself … If I educate myself, then I can educate my children” – Terarai Trent, a Zimbabwean woman now completing a PhD in the United States.