Journalists Explore Oppression of Women

During World War I, more American women died during childbirth than American men fell in combat. And while western countries have since raised healthcare quality for women to preclude such a statistic, complications during childbirth still pose a significant problem in the developing world, said journalists Nicholas D. Kristof ’81-’82 and Sheryl WuDunn at the Brattle Street Theater last night.

Kristof and WuDunn—the first married couple to win a Pulitzer Prize together—spoke to a packed audience of their experiences in Malaysia and Africa while promoting their new co-authored book “Half the Sky,” which draws from the Chinese saying “women hold up half the sky.”

“The 21st Century cause is the gender inequality around the globe...and that is not a hyperbole,” Kristof said.

They said the goal of their book was to begin a social movement at the grass-roots level, describing the health-related obstacles women face in the developing world, including death and injury during childbirth, sex-trafficking, slavery, denial of education, and malnutrition.

“We want to recruit you to the movement,” Kristof said. “Women and girls aren’t the problem. They are the solution.”

Kristof spoke of the “dirty little secret of development”—that bad spending decisions are disproportionately made by men: 20 percent of daily income in Africa is spent by men on alcohol, tobacco, prostitution, and sugary drinks, and a portion of that spending could be shifted towards educating girls, he said. Educating girls also has a positive economic return over time, he added.

WuDunn then outlined the “agenda” for the movement, which she said needed to begin by ending sex trafficking through providing education and alternate employment options to women. In approaching change, she said, gradual changes are better than none at all.

Several members of the Harvard student-run non-profit, Circle of Women—which promotes the education of women in the developing world and has just finished building a secondary school in Afghanistan—were present at the event. Elizabeth K. Brook ’10, co-director of the organization, said she agreed with Kristof and WuDunn’s emphasis on incremental efforts, explaining that the cost of education and clean water can be covered for a student in their newly-constructed school with just $5 per month.

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