The World has a Girl Problem
There are staggering human rights violations happening right now. You won't find it in breaking news headlines or discussion boards because this is a routine kind of human rights violation. Every day there are girls who are kidnapped and forced against their will into brothels, married off at age 14 because their family cannot afford school, or killed because they receive less medical treatment because it must be saved for the males in the family. This is gender discrimination and it happens in all forms around the world. Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas Kristof and Sherryl WuDunn give a passionate argument as to why this is the most important and glaring global issue that needs immediate and aggressive attention in their book Half the Sky.
The couple covered the atrocities that occurred in Tiananmen Square in the 1980s as it shocked the entire world for its blatant violation of human rights. Yet as Kristof and WuDunn focused on human rights violations through a gender prism, they found that "as many infant girls die unnecessarily every week in China as protesters died in the one incident at Tiananman" because girls are not given the same medical attention their brothers receive. Why, then does this injustice lack the media and global attention it should demand?
The statistics continue. In India, a "bride burning" occurs every two hours; this practice is meant to punish a bride for an inadequate dowry or to simply get rid of her so that the husband can remarry. Across Asia and Africa, thousands of women and girls are routinely kidnapped and forced into brothels. Kristof estimates that a little girl in India dies every four minutes due to sex discrimination because mothers are less likely to give their daughters necessary vaccinations and on average, girls are taken to the hospital only if they are significantly sicker than boys.
Worldwide, Kristof and WuDunn estimate that: "more girls have been killed in the last fifty years precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the battles of the 20th century. More girls are killed in this routine 'gendercide' in any one decade than people were slaughtered in all the genocides of the 20th century." These deaths involve issues like maternal mortality, sexual violence, human trafficking, and routine gender discrimination. These are human rights violations that are occurring on a gender specific basis and they mark an enormous loss of life and potential.
What could be the most remarkable part of Half the Sky is how Kristof and WuDunn argue for the empowerment of women-not just from a human rights perspective. Giving girls the opportunity for education and keeping them in school long enough to get a substantial education will curb cases of maternal mortality and overpopulation. Part of the tragedy of maternal mortality and injuries such as obstetric fistulas is in part caused by childbirth at a young age. They argue that keeping girls in school longer will curb the population explosion and in turn, ease the risks of famine and the toll overpopulation has on an environmental scale. Half the Sky eloquently notes that the empowerment of women will not solve all issues immediately, but "it is an approach that offers a range of rewards that go far beyond simple justice."
The logic behind giving women a voice in societies-particularly poverty-ridden societies-is what makes this book stand out as a start of a global movement to end gender discrimination. The loss of female human life and the discrimination that bars girls and women from schools and the government positions is not only a human rights issue but also a lost opportunity for our global problems to be solved.
Half the Sky brings to light an issue that is far too much overlooked. Several movements like the Girl Effect, recognize and bring to light that far too many countries are wasting a vital resource: women and girls. The routine gender discrimination that occurs around the world prevents women and girls from being productive and helpful members of a society. Kristof reported that when a woman is given a chance to work and provide an income, she is more likely to invest that money back in her family for food, education, and medical care, than her husband. He further notes:
"Yet if the injustices that women in poor countries suffer are of paramount importance, in an economic and geopolitical sense the opportunity they represent is even greater. 'Women hold up half the sky,' in the words of a Chinese saying, yet that's mostly an aspiration: in 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."
When you marry off a girl at the age of 14, she loses out on an education that her society would have benefitted from. You put her at risk of bearing children at an age so young that her body is not even fully developed enough to safely have that child, which increases the chances of sometime irreversible maternal injuries or death. These several factors, which stack up against women and girls in impoverished societies, can be fixed. Putting emphasis on international funding for maternal care, pressuring countries to establish a legal age of consent, fighting to put an end to honor killings and mass rapes, and strategically finding and prosecuting those who kidnap and force women and girls into the sex trade are steps the international community must start taking.
Far too easily, the problems facing women and girls globally are put on the back burner in foreign policy. Yet once the world stops looking at these problems as "women's issues" and equate them wholly with all humanity's issues, then this global oppression of women can be stopped. What Kristof and WuDunn's Half the Sky does, is bring these human rights violations to light and invigorates one with the hope and promise that one day these human rights violations will stop. Once they do, humanity can finally see a more cooperative and prosperous society.
To learn more about the Half the Sky Movement and watch their trailer for the upcoming special on the book, visit: www.halftheskymovement.org
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