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:

Arzigul Tursun’s Unborn Baby’s Life in the Hands of the Government

19 11 2008

Six months pregnant. Police forcibly take you/your wife to get an abortion. Sound impossible? It actually happened this week to Arzigul Tursun, an Uyghur mother of two in China. The Uyghurs are a Turkic people living in the areas of Central Asia commonly known as East Turkestan. China permits only one child per family, but allows ethnic minorities such as Arzigul to have more: peasants can have three and those living in the city can have two. Arzigul is a peasant, but her husband is from a city so the policy is unclear.

Arzigul had already been under guard in the hospital, but managed to escape. Twenty to thirty policemen showed up at her home on Monday and forcibly took her to another more heavily guarded hospital to have an abortion. It was set to be carried out on Tuesday against her will.

On Monday, two U.S. Congressmen urged the Chinese government to stop the planned abortion and release Arzigul. According to Radio Free Asia:

Rep. Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania on Monday urged officials to “immediately intervene in order to stop any forced abortion from taking place.” On Friday, Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, ranking member on the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, called forced abortions a “barbaric practice” and made a personal appeal to Chinese ambassador Zhou Wenzhong.

Smith also contacted U.S. Ambassador to China Clark Randt and asked him to intervene. Randt spoke with the executive vice foreign minister, Wang Guanya, Smith’s office said.

This is not an isolated case. Time Magazine reported in April, 2007 about:

…alleged forced abortions in China’s impoverished Guangxi province. Earlier this month as many as 61 pregnant women were injected with an abortive drug after being dragged to local hospitals, according to media accounts. Human rights activists say actions allegedly carried out by family planning officials there are unlikely to be isolated.

Some of those women were even nine months pregnant, according to NPR. He Caigan was one of those women. The Chinese government does not allow unwed mothers to have a baby, but, at 19 years old, she was too young to get a marriage license to marry the father. She was just days away from delivering her first child when officials turned up at her home, took her to the hospital, and had her baby aborted. 

A family who exceeds the quota of allowable children can face having to pay stiff penalties and also possibly the loss of a job or a demotion and even expulsion from the Party. Those who abide by the quota are rewarded with a small yearly stipend. The Chinese government has this one-child policy to slow population growth.

For all the slick pageantry and seemingly happy people seen in the Beijing Olympics this year, the Chinese people experience high personal losses of freedom. Most likely due to the high profile of Arzigul Tursun’s case, she was one of the lucky ones. She was released from the hospital and allowed to continue her pregnancy. 

People in the U.S. like Sarah Palin who are against abortions in the case of rape and incest might want to focus their wrath on what the Chinese government is doing – forcing married women who want their babies to get abortions. This is truly an inhumane travesty.