Empowering Women to Hold Up Half the Sky

28 08 2009

Her family in need of money, at age 14, Abbas Be left her home in Hyderabad, India and went to New Delhi to become a maid…or so she thought. Instead, she was locked up in a brothel, beaten, gang raped, made to service customers sexually, made to watch girls who didn’t comply be murdered, and was never paid for her work. Eventually she was rescued by police and taken back to Hyderabad, where she found a home in a shelter that helps trafficked girls heal and learn skills for a new life. Abbas is getting an education, has learned bookbinding, is counseling girls on how to avoid being trafficked, and is earning enough money to help her sisters get an education and help them avoid being trafficked.

How can we improve the plight of women and girls globally? One very important way is through education, as is demonstrated in this story and many others in the upcoming book Half the Sky BookHalf the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, which will be released on 9/8/09. The book is written by the husband and wife team of New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and journalist and author Sheryl WuDunn, who have both won Pulitzer Prizes for their reporting. They wrote an essay called “The Women’s Crusade,” which is adapted from the book and appeared on 8/17/09 in the New York Times. Here are some of the things they report:

  • In 1990, while living and reporting in China, they read an obscure report that stated that 39,000 baby girls die in the first year of life annually in China because parents don’t get girls the same medical care they do boys.
  • A bride is burned once every two hours in India because the dowry isn’t high enough or the husband wants to get rid of her to marry someone else.
  • Anywhere from 60 to 107 million females are missing from the planet due primarily to not getting adequate nutrition and health care. This number is more than all the men who were killed in all the wars in the 20th century.
  • The poorest families in the world spend approximately 20% of their incomes on alcohol, prostitution, candy, sugary drinks, and lavish feasts and only about 2% of their income on educating their children. Studies show that when women are able to have an income, it is more often spent on good food, medicine, and housing and children are healthier.
  • In some cases, fathers drink away $5 a week at bars…$5 that could purchase a mosquito net and save a child from dying of malaria.

Sometimes even the simplest things can make a huge difference in the lives of girls. Examples mentioned in the article are:

  • A study done in Kenya by Harvard economist Michael Kremer showed that the best way to motivate sixth grade girls to better academic performance is to offer them a $19 scholarship for seventh and eighth grade and recognition at an assembly.
  • In another Kenyan study, it was shown that dropout and pregnancy rates can be significantly reduced by providing a $6 school uniform to girls every 18 months.
  • Another way to keep girls from missing classes is to aid girls in menstruation by providing pads and a place to change them.
Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

President Obama has appointed a new White House Council on Women and Girls. Nicholas and Sheryl have three concrete recommendations for the Council, which would cost no more than the U.S. has given to Pakistan since 9/11:

  • Set aside $10 billion over the next five years to educate girls all over the world.  When Larry Summers was chief economist of the World Bank, he said that “Investment in girls’ education may well be the highest-return investment available in the developing world.”
  • Sponsor a drive to help countries all over the world iodize salt and eliminate iodine deficiency. Approximately a third of households in developing countries don’t get enough iodine and it can affect particularly female fetuses and reduce girls’ IQs 10 to 15 points.
  • Provide $1.6 billion over the next 12 years to eradicate obstetric fistulas. A fistula is a hole formed inside a woman during a difficult childbirth and it can leave her smelly, incontinent, and shunned by her village. It only costs a few hundred dollars to repair.

There is a Chinese saying that inspired the title of the Kristof/WuDunn book:

Women hold up half the sky.

Sometimes women just need a little help. If you’d like to make a difference in the lives of women and children all over the world, here are just a few of the many organizations that would appreciate even a small donation:

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Three Cups of Tea’s Greg Mortenson: An Unlikely Hero, A Builder of Schools

24 04 2009
Greg Mortenson didn’t set out to be a hero, but life pushed him into it. His sister Christa, a lifelong epileptic, died and he decided to honor her memory in 1993 by climbing Pakistan’s K2, the second highest mountain in the world and possibly the most difficult to climb. After 78 days, he did not reach the summit and stumbled into the village of Korphe…ill, worn out, exhausted.

The people there nursed him back to health. He visited the local school and saw 84 children writing their lessons in the dirt. They so desired an education, but poverty prevented them from having what they needed to learn. He promised the people he would come back and build them a school.

Greg Mortenson with Pakistani Schoolchildren - Image courtesy Central Asia Institute

Greg Mortenson with Pakistani Schoolchildren - Image courtesy Central Asia Institute

That promise led Greg to build 78 schools…and counting… in Pakistan and Afghanistan. 28,000 students so far have gotten an education because of Greg’s promise and passion.

The thing that is remarkable about Greg is that he had no money when he returned to the U.S. He lived in his car for a while. But he was determined to keep that promise. He wrote letters to 580 prominent people. He said he could build a school for $12,000 and finally Jean Hoerni, founder of Fairchild Semiconductor, sent him a check.

Greg had no experience fundraising or building schools, but he had a strong will to help the children get an education and he continually found the way to make it happen. On Hoerni’s death, he endowed the Central Asia Institute with $1 million and named Greg the director. It gave Greg the funds to build more schools and eventually more people were brought on board to help in the efforts, both in the U.S. and in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Greg has given tirelessly of himself in the last 16 years and has had tremendous support from his wife and two children. He spends part of each year in the Pakistan/Afghanistan region and the other part in the U.S. giving fund-raising speeches. He is a current nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize and has won numerous awards.

This post just cannot do justice to the miracles that Greg Mortenson has brought into reality through his tenacity and passion. He has withstood personal danger, financial hardship, long separations from his family, and much more to make an education a reality for children…especially girls…who would otherwise have no future.

Greg has found that educating a girl does three important things:

  1. Significantly decreases the population explosion over a generation or two
  2. Reduces infant mortality dramatically in a decade or two
  3. Significantly improves the basic quality of health and life itself

Greg’s efforts have also helped build bridges, pipes to provide clean water, women’s centers, and other structures necessary to make it possible for children to attend school.

three-cups-of-tea-book-coverGreg is a testament to what one person can do…an unlikely hero, but a hero still. Read the book Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time by Greg and David Oliver Relin about Greg’s journey. It is captivating. You can read more about Greg on the www.threecupsoftea.com website.

You can also learn more about the Central Asia Institute and make a donation to help build more schools. Pennies for Peace is a program of the Central Asia Institute that educates children about the world outside their experience and encourages them to make an impact globally by contributing pennies.

It only costs $1 a month to educate a child and $1 a day to pay a teacher’s salary. Consider giving. Your money will go a long way to making a huge difference in a child’s life.

Bravo, Greg Mortenson! You are my hero!

UPDATE 11/28/09: In a 11/25 letter from the Central Asia Institute, they say that they established 21 new schools in 2009 in Afghanistan. They also “started two dozen more women’s literacy centers, scholarship programs for hundreds of eager students and a new maternal health-training program in northern Pakistan.” Their Pennies for Peace program grew from 250 to over 4,600 schools in 2009. The program brought in the equivalent of 160 million pennies to help students all over the world. Greg’ new book Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace With Books Not Bombs in Afghanistan and Pakistan is being released 12/1.