One of my favorite Chinese proverbs says, "Women hold up half the sky." Some days I feel like it's more than half, but the point of the proverb is that women are equal partners with men in navigating through life. At least, we ought to be.
In their recent book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, New York Times reporters Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn explore not only the moving stories of girls and women around the world who struggle with horrible circumstances, but they've created a call to action for us to help empower women and children to bring them out of poverty.
But why write a book about poverty stricken women and girls in a time of war and economic downturn? WuDunn sums it up pretty nicely:
The good news is that this mission is close to heart of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:
You have to recognize how deep-seated [women's inequality] is, but also reach an understanding of how without providing more rights and responsibilities for women, many of the goals we claim to pursue in [United States] foreign policy are either unachievable or much harder to achieve.
Democracy means nothing if half the people can’t vote, or if their vote doesn’t count, or if their literacy rate is so low that the exercise of their vote is in question. Which is why when I travel, I do events with women, I talk about women’s rights, I meet with women activists, I raise women’s concerns with the leaders I’m talking to.
Kristof and WuDunn write in their New York Times piece that accompanied Clinton's interview:
... [I]n a large slice of the world, girls are uneducated and women marginalized, and it’s not an accident that those same countries are disproportionately mired in poverty and riven by fundamentalism and chaos. There’s a growing recognition among everyone from the World Bank to the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff to aid organizations like CARE that focusing on women and girls is the most effective way to fight global poverty and extremism. That’s why foreign aid is increasingly directed to women. The world is awakening to a powerful truth: Women and girls aren’t the problem; they’re the solution.
In the past, these issues have gotten little media attention. But if more people have the reaction to the book of this reviewer at Shine, things could be changing:
By page 7, I had cried twice, but more importantly, I realized that this collection of stories about WOMEN is not about the atrocities or abuse they suffered. Those cruelties are just the backdrop. What this book exemplifies is that the human spirit, regardless of what is hurled at it, insults, belts, or fists, will not be beaten down.
The stories presented left a deafening mark on my heart and brought me to tears. Ultimately, I felt confused by the facts presented about the brutal oppression suffered by women around the world.
I can't wait to finish reading the book, partly because I find this topic so compelling and partly because in a few months, we will be traveling back to China with PunditGirl for the first time since she became our daughter through adoption. Nine years ago, I wasn't focused on the status of Chinese women -- I was too starry-eyed about becoming a mother and incredibly nervous about how, as a 40-something mom, I would manage a little baby. This time, we'll be focusing on a lot of things and I know that how people live, especially women and girls, will be something we'll have to talk about with her.
As parents of daughters, I hope we can all come together on this to tell the stories of these women and to find ways to help them break free of their oppressive circumstances, even in this time of political division. As WuDunn said -- this time, we can't walk away.
BlogHer Politics & News Contributing Editor Joanne Bamberger writes about political women, especially mothers, at her place, PunditMom. She also has a bad Twitter habit, so you'll find here there, too, when she's not supposed to be working on her book about political mothers (Bright Sky Press, Fall 2010)
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