How to Save the World–You Must Read

23women-600From: HERE (free, login required).

From “Saving the World’s Women” by Nicholas Kristof and SHERYL WuDUNN NY TIMES Magazine, August 17, 2009, excerpted from their book Half the Sky, coming out next month.

Thesis: “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. 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.”

The hearts/experience of the journalists: Traditionally, the status of women was seen as a “soft” issue — worthy but marginal. We initially reflected that view ourselves in our work as journalists. We preferred to focus instead on the “serious” international issues, like trade disputes or arms proliferation. Our awakening came in China.

After we married in 1988, we moved to Beijing to be correspondents for The New York Times. Seven months later we found ourselves standing on the edge of Tiananmen Square watching troops fire their automatic weapons at prodemocracy protesters. The massacre claimed between 400 and 800 lives and transfixed the world; wrenching images of the killings appeared constantly on the front page and on television screens.

Yet the following year we came across an obscure but meticulous demographic study that outlined a human rights violation that had claimed tens of thousands more lives. This study found that 39,000 baby girls died annually in China because parents didn’t give them the same medical care and attention that boys received — and that was just in the first year of life. A result is that as many infant girls died unnecessarily every week in China as protesters died at Tiananmen Square. Those Chinese girls never received a column inch of news coverage, and we began to wonder if our journalistic priorities were skewed.

Fact and figures: A similar pattern emerged in other countries. In India, a “bride burning” takes place approximately once every two hours, to punish a woman for an inadequate dowry or to eliminate her so a man can remarry — but these rarely constitute news. When a prominent dissident was arrested in China, we would write a front-page article; when 100,000 girls were kidnapped and trafficked into brothels, we didn’t even consider it news.

Amartya Sen, the ebullient Nobel Prize-winning economist, developed a gauge of gender inequality that is a striking reminder of the stakes involved. “More than 100 million women are missing,” Sen wrote in a classic essay in 1990 in The New York Review of Books, spurring a new field of research. Sen noted that in normal circumstances, women live longer than men, and so there are more females than males in much of the world. Yet in places where girls have a deeply unequal status, they vanish. China has 107 males for every 100 females in its overall population (and an even greater disproportion among newborns), and India has 108. The implication of the sex ratios, Sen later found, is that about 107 million females are missing from the globe today. Follow-up studies have calculated the number slightly differently, deriving alternative figures for “missing women” of between 60 million and 107 million.

In India, for example, girls are less likely to be vaccinated than boys and are taken to the hospital only when they are sicker. A result is that girls in India from 1 to 5 years of age are 50 percent more likely to die than boys their age. In addition, ultrasound machines have allowed a pregnant woman to find out the sex of her fetus — and then get an abortion if it is female.

The global statistics on the abuse of girls are numbing. It appears that more girls and women are now missing from the planet, precisely because they are female, than men were killed on the battlefield in all the wars of the 20th century. The number of victims of this routine “gendercide” far exceeds the number of people who were slaughtered in all the genocides of the 20th century.

In Asia alone about one million children working in the sex trade are held in conditions indistinguishable from slavery, according to a U.N. report. Girls and women are locked in brothels and beaten if they resist, fed just enough to be kept alive and often sedated with drugs — to pacify them and often to cultivate addiction. India probably has more modern slaves than any other country.

For all of India’s shiny new high-rises, a woman there still has a 1-in-70 lifetime chance of dying in childbirth. In contrast, the lifetime risk in the United States is 1 in 4,800; in Ireland, it is 1 in 47,600. The reason for the gap is not that we don’t know how to save lives of women in poor countries. It’s simply that poor, uneducated women in Africa and Asia have never been a priority either in their own countries or to donor nations.

Microfinance Solutions: Our interviews and perusal of the data available suggest that the poorest families in the world spend approximately 10 times as much (20 percent of their incomes on average) on a combination of alcohol, prostitution, candy, sugary drinks and lavish feasts as they do on educating their children (2 percent). If poor families spent only as much on educating their children as they do on beer and prostitutes, there would be a breakthrough in the prospects of poor countries. Girls, since they are the ones kept home from school now, would be the biggest beneficiaries. Moreover, one way to reallocate family expenditures in this way is to put more money in the hands of women. A series of studies has found that when women hold assets or gain incomes, family money is more likely to be spent on nutrition, medicine and housing, and consequently children are healthier.

In general, aid appears to work best when it is focused on health, education and microfinance (although microfinance has been somewhat less successful in Africa than in Asia). And in each case, crucially, aid has often been most effective when aimed at women and girls; when policy wonks do the math, they often find that these investments have a net economic return. Only a small proportion of aid specifically targets women or girls, but increasingly donors are recognizing that that is where they often get the most bang for the buck.

World’s Attention: In the early 1990s, the United Nations and the World Bank began to proclaim the potential resource that women and girls represent. “Investment in girls’ education may well be the highest-return investment available in the developing world,” Larry Summers wrote when he was chief economist of the World Bank. Private aid groups and foundations shifted gears as well. “Women are the key to ending hunger in Africa,” declared the Hunger Project. The Center for Global Development issued a major report explaining “why and how to put girls at the center of development.” CARE took women and girls as the centerpiece of its anti-poverty efforts. “Gender inequality hurts economic growth,” Goldman Sachs concluded in a 2008 research report that emphasized how much developing countries could improve their economic performance by educating girls.

A study in Kenya by Michael Kremer, a Harvard economist, examined six different approaches to improving educational performance, from providing free textbooks to child-sponsorship programs. The approach that raised student test scores the most was to offer girls who had scored in the top 15 percent of their class on sixth-grade tests a $19 scholarship for seventh and eighth grade (and the glory of recognition at an assembly). Boys also performed better, apparently because they were pushed by the girls or didn’t want to endure the embarrassment of being left behind.

Another Kenyan study found that giving girls a new $6 school uniform every 18 months significantly reduced dropout rates and pregnancy rates. Likewise, there’s growing evidence that a cheap way to help keep high-school girls in school is to help them manage menstruation. For fear of embarrassing leaks and stains, girls sometimes stay home during their periods, and the absenteeism puts them behind and eventually leads them to drop out. Aid workers are experimenting with giving African teenage girls sanitary pads, along with access to a toilet where they can change them. The Campaign for Female Education, an organization devoted to getting more girls into school in Africa, helps girls with their periods, and a new group, Sustainable Health Enterprises, is trying to do the same.

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7 Comments on “How to Save the World–You Must Read

  1. Jude,

    We’re leaving for Yellowstone and Jackson on Saturday, and I actually saved the magazine from last weekend’s paper for the plane trip. I am very much looking forward to reading the article(s). Glad it has your endorsement!!

    Miss you!!
    -E

    PS If I was single at 40, I think I’d take better care of myself – maintaining better friendships with my girlfriends, eating healthier and even exercising!, but I’m afraid that I’d be even more of a workaholic as I wouldn’t leave work at 5:15pm to get the little guy. Maybe when I’m retired at 60, I will open my own (plant) nursery. (Don’t you hate how the grass is somehow always a little greener on the other side?!)

  2. Oh Jesus, come back soon!

    I went from feeling sick to rage in the few minutes I read this article. What perverse thing Satan has done!

    60-107 million, really? So many holes in the universe.

    I got to be at the first international microcredit conference – just as it was coming into vogue. Even then we knew if it was going to change the world, it had to be funneled to women.

    But now I have a daughter. These are daughters!

    My parents took an exchange student from Yemen this year – she was going to be sent back because I guess it is very hard to place Middle Eastern women. Since then we found out she is very poor and her dad will probably die of liver failure while she is gone. She won a scholarship and her dad gave her everything left so that she could go school.

    She sleeps every night with the light on because she is scared. She sits alone at lunch. But she told my parents it doesn’t matter because she came to get an education.

    She is holding up far more than her far share of the world.

    • Volunteer to help a young find the love of watercolor you have! Go serve food at the homeless shelter, give to great organizations, pray.

  3. I am going and wonder if anyone else wants to go to hear Sheryl WuDunn address issues we need to know about women and also about China.

    Date: October 20, 2009, 3:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
    Location: Fairwinds Alumni Center, Grand Ballroom, UCF, Orlando, Florida
    Access: Open Forum
    Topic: China’s Transformation

  4. Sus:

    Thanks for posting that as a reminder. I will be out of town that day, but will let people know. I just mentioned it to Judy D and she is interested.

  5. Judy, thank you for enlightening us even further with God’s heart for the world’s women. Was just emailing you when this came in…This causes the Old Twit to “tribe up” even more and connect with the One Who’s heart needs no intercept in today’s world; BUT with His robe to hang onto and the connect/wisdom He provides, we need to keep going like gangbusters and gather others to accompany us in the vitality of the HS, to help those in our sphere’s of influence to choose Him. Love you guys…Look forward to meeting you Sus…

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