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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1.2 Million Child Prostitutes in India

12 05 2009

This is heartbreaking. Over one million children live treacherous and degraded lives due to being trafficked in prostitution in India. And 100 million people are involved in human trafficking in India. ONE HUNDRED MILLION. These numbers are staggering and incredibly disturbing.

Child Prostitute in India

Child Prostitute in India

This is a country that has so much poverty and yet so much promise. Business has exploded there. And yet it is definitely a country of the haves and the have nots…those who are benefitting from the business explosion and those who live in the slums in abject poverty. Opportunists play both sides…the wealthy buy children to have sex with. The poor sell their children into prostitution. They are all players in this sick and soul-killing game.

If India as a country and as a people does not take bold steps to raise up the poor and stamp out child prostitution, they will see generations of moral and spiritual destitution and poverty that will plague them and destroy any potential greatness their country could realize.

Here’s the CNN article on this:

NEW DELHI, India (CNN) — Around 1.2 million children are believed to be involved in prostitution in India, the country’s federal police said Monday.

Ashwani Kumar, who heads the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), told a seminar on human trafficking, that India occupied a “unique position” as what he called a source, transit nation and destination of this trade.

India’s home secretary Madhukar Gupta remarked that at least 100 million people were involved in human trafficking in India.

“The number of trafficked persons is difficult to determine due to the secrecy and clandestine nature of the crime.

“However, studies and surveys sponsored by the ministry of women and child development estimate that there are about three million prostitutes in the country, of which an estimated 40 percent are children,” a CBI statement said.

Prostitution in pilgrim towns, exploitation through sex tourism and pedophilia are some of some of the “alarming trends” that have emerged in recent years in India, it noted.

Authorities believe 90 percent of human trafficking in India is “intra-country.”

UPDATE 9/27/09: Please visit my friend Shelley Seale’s blog on her book The Weight of Silence: Invisible Children in India. She writes about traveling there four times and witnessing the horrors of children living in orphanages, in the slums, and being vulnerable to being trafficked.





Who Wants to Buy a Slumdog Millionaire Actress?

19 04 2009
That’s what 9-year-old Rubina Ali’s impoverished father Rafiq Qureshi is asking. He’s offering her for sale. An undercover team from News of the World, self-described as “Britain’s biggest-selling newspaper featuring the best news, showbiz and sport exclusives,” traveled to Dubai after receiving a tip from someone close to Rubina’s family and posed as a wealthy Dubai family interested in illegally purchasing the girl.
 
Uncle, Undercover Team, Rubina's father (to her left), Rubina Ali

Uncle, Undercover Team, Rubina's father (to her left), Rubina Ali

One Middle Eastern family has legitimately offered to adopt the girl, but her father has gotten greedy and wants 200,000 pounds for her now (equal to $294,880 in dollars).

The News of the World article points out the father’s utter lack of concern of what could happen to his daughter if she were sold:

Trafficking of poor Indian children to the Middle East, where they are forced to risk their lives as camel jockeys or subjected to sexual abuse, is common in the Mumbai slums. But that did not deter Rafiq.

Children are often seen as commodities in poor areas of India and other countries and parents are left with difficult choices. Rubina’s father said: “We live in one room, seven of us sleep on the floor. I earn £2 to £3 a day. I have to consider what’s best for me, my family and Rubina’s future.”

It is difficult to imagine living in such poverty as the people who live in the Mumbai slums. If you have seen the movie “Slumdog Millionaire,” you got a glimpse of how they live…and of how Rubina lives.

Rubina’s father is being an opportunist. He knows that she can attract the attention of wealthy people who can give her a better life. In that regard, he is no different from the father of Madonna’s Malawi child giving his son up for Madonna to adopt so he could have a better life. Rafiq Qureshi also sees this as his one chance in life to provide for himself and the rest of his family.

To raffle his child off to the highest bidder sends chills up my spine. It is to see a child as an object…something to sell to get money. I think of the preciousness of a daughter…the hopes for her future, the love she gives and brings to the family, the delight in seeing her grow up and develop into her own person, the pride in knowing that she came from you, etc….I cannot imagine under any circumstance selling her or giving her up.

Is this what poverty does? Harden people to the point that they don’t see children and women as precious? Or is there something in the character and genetics of people…people who are so callous and selfish and money-grubbing that they would sell their own daughter even in the face that she could be prostituted…that leads to their poverty? Can one be so bankrupt in morals and love and basic caring for a child and also expect to live in anything but poverty? Don’t the two go hand in hand?

To realize the preciousness of a child is to see oneself as abundant. All the riches in the world come with having a child. And to see a child only as something to be sold means that the poor cannot see true abundance when they have it and will never truly attain it.

UPDATE 4/21/09: The producers of the Slumdog Millionaire movie have now hired a social worker to look after Rubina after this happened. Rubina’s father has been arrested and there is a huge uproar about this in India. Rubina’s biological mother is demanding custody of Rubina.

UPDATE 4/22/09: Officials have released Rubina’s father and say they have no proof he tried to sell her.





Yeah, I Said It – We’re All Responsible for What Happened in Mumbai

29 11 2008

The U.S. has a hand in the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, the Congolese insurgents savagely raping and murdering their own people, the refugees in Darfur and throughout the world, and more. Not our fault, you say? What have we in the U.S., in our warm and safe homes, done to make these things happen half-way around the world?

  • Look at the hatred, vitriol, and near lynch mobs stirred up particularly by Sarah Palin during the election. People post signs now in convenience stores and children chant on school buses to murder our president-elect because of what Palin and McCain did all under the guise of winning an election. These things go unpunished and are allowed in the name of free speech and people being cowardly to do anything about them.
  • We hear about the atrocities committed in Darfur and the hopelessness of the people there ever having a life and yet our own president does virtually nothing. Instead, he pours $10 billion a month into an Iraq war on false pretenses.
  • Our own president authorizes and orders torture in Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, and at many other secret locations around the world of supposed terrorist prisoners while stating publicly that the U.S. does not torture. The United States is looked up to by the rest of the world and we are committing some of the worst human rights crimes imaginable.
  • We are greedy, spending, spending, spending money we don’t have, going into more and more debt. We are all about having THINGS instead of focusing on how we can be loving and kind. Yesterday’s trampling of a Wal-Mart employee as shoppers rushed into a New York store and two men shooting each other dead in a Toys R Us store are examples of how greed and trying to outdo others can turn into violence.
  • We have equated being a Muslim with being a terrorist. There was sheer hysteria during the election (and it still continues) at the thought that Obama could be a Muslim (which he is not). Muslims make up one out of every four people in the world. Our minimizing and/or portraying them as people to fear and hate has got to stop.
  • We glorify having guns and having the right to use them. Many of our soldiers think it’s fun to shoot people.
  • What do many of our youth (and even adults) value? Bling-bling $200,000 necklaces on a hip-hop star’s neck, calling women “ho’s” and “bitches”, violent video games, and other degrading stains on our culture.
  • Our government doesn’t prioritize education and our children are getting less intelligent with each generation.
  • Men who rape and/or batter women or children get little to no jail time and usually are not even brought to justice.
  • We still pay men one-third more than women for the same job.
  • Our government sanctions killing people (death penalty).
  • And on and on.

We in the U.S. are seen as standard bearers by the rest of the world. When we devalue women and children, glorify war and guns, lash out in hatred toward and threaten others who are different from us, harm innocent people, and value money and things more than people, the whole world is watching and they emulate us. Think about it…those are things that terrorists do. By raising our own standards, morals, behavior, and social consciousness, we can individually and collectively contribute to lifting up the standards, morals, behavior, and social consciousness of people all over the world.