Yesterday’s New York Times Magazine was devoted to women, and if you’ve not read it yet, I implore you to do so. Granted, it won’t be much fun, but I think the issues it raises are critically important for all women. The cover lines give fair warning of what’s to come, as well as why it matters: “In many parts of the world, women are routinely beaten, raped or sold into prositution. They are denied access to medical care, education and economic and political power. Changing that could change everything” and then, in larger font: “Why Women’s Rights Are the Cause of Our Time.”
Inside are no end of reasons to be appalled, outraged, shocked, devastated. Among them: “The Daughter Deficit,” which outlines why–at first pause, counterintuitively–development in India and China (where, ironically, a saying asserts that “women hold up half the sky”) has led to even more discrimination against girls. And, in this case, “discrimination” means killing and neglect, while “development” means more education and money and lower birth rates with little change to these societies’ traditional patriarchal values–making the birth of a daughter for a family that will likely only have a couple of children an out-and-out “disaster”–and access to ultrasounds, which leads to frequent abortions of female fetuses.
In the cover piece, by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, you will read about Pakistani, Burundi, Indian, and Rwandan women who’ve overcome unfathomable injustices–and emerged on the other side, educating themselves and turning microloans into successful businesses with which they’re able to support their families.
In “Lives: Truck Stop Girls,” you’ll read about prostitutes in Swaziland, including a 16 year-old, HIV positive orphan who wants only “Someplace safe. Someplace to be a girl.”
And in “A School Bus for Shamsia,” you’ll read about Afghan girls who risk everything for their education, including Shamsia, who had battery acid thrown on her face on her way to school one day. In that piece, Dexter Filkins writes of a visit he made to Mirwais Mena School, which Shamsia continues to attend:
I sometimes sensed a revolution was quietly unfolding. In a second-story classroom, one teacher, Mohammed Daoud, stood before 25 girls and delivered what was ostensibly a talk about Islam. But after a while, the talk turned into something else.
‘You should work,’ Daoud told the girls. ‘You should serve your country-serve the people. You should strive to do great things,’ he continued, ‘and you should try to be independent and self-reliant.’
The girls looked on, wide-eyed.
‘A woman can do whatever she attempts,’ he said. ‘But she needs skills, she needs effort and learning… A woman should have self-confidence,’ he told the girls, ‘and she should trust in herself that she can do anything.’
You’ll also come across some seriously empowering stuff. Like this:
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.
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 this is where they often get the most bang for the buck.
(That section goes on to cite echoing studies and statements from the likes of Larry Summers, Bill Gates, and Goldman Sachs, not to mention the Hunger Project, the Center for Global Development, and CARE.)
And then there’s this:
Greater female involvement in society and the economy appears to undermine extremism and terrorism.
Up front, in a Q and A with Liberia’s (female) head of state Ellen Johnson Sirleaf by Deborah Solomon, Sirleaf does more than hint that the world might be a safer place with women at the helm:
Q: If women ran the world, would wars still exist?
A: No. It would be a better, safer, and more productive world. A woman would bring an extra dimension to that task-and that’s a sensitivity to humankind. It comes from being a mother.
And what does this all have to do with us, priveledged souls burdened primarily with more choices than we know what to do with? A lot, I should think. Because we, the latte-swilling, cubicle-dwelling, work-and-life balancing (underpaid, underrepresented) millions, while still not at the finish line, are leading the way for our sisters around the world. And who better to speak to this interconnectedness than Secretary of State Hillary Clinton? As she puts it in a Q and A with Mark Landler:
I happen to believe that the transformation of women’s roles is the last great impediment to universal progress…. So-called women’s issues are stability issues, security issues, equity issues.
And then, the grand finale. Landler asks, “is there any lesson from your presidential campaign that you can take to women elsewhere in the world?”
An excerpt from Madame Secretary’s answer:
My campaign for many reasons gave a lot of heart to many young women. It is still the most common comment that people make to me: ‘your campaign gave me courage’ or ‘your campaign made a difference in my daughter’s life’ or ‘I went back to school because of your campaign.’ So, it is unfinished business and young women know it is unfinished business. The vast majority of them will never run for political office… But they may decide to seek an education that their family doesn’t approve of, or move away for a job that is a little bit frightening to them, but which they feel they’ve got the skills to do. Or, you know, stand up and speak out against an injustice they see. And it is all of that ripple that is building and building –and is unstoppable.
Here’s to building that ripple. It seems the world depends on it.