Yesterday, CNN featured a TED talk by Sheryl WuDunn, on the worldwide plight of women and girls. WuDunn is a former reporter for the New York Times (and the first Asian-American to win a Pullitzer Prize), who, along with Nicholas Kristoff, penned the book Half the Sky, which explores how empowering women can help solve global problems of class, education, violence and oppression.
With compelling anecdoes, WuDunn describes the stories of women who live in rural and impoverished towns, treated as disposable by their families. WuDunn recounts how in the so-called First World, women slightly out-number men (because women have a longer life expectancy); but how in the so-called Third World, demographers have shown that because of a combination of sex-based abortion, preferential resources being given to young boys over young girls, and cultural oppression, 60 to 100 million women are missing world-wide.
WuDunn talks about how small donations — if they make it to their intended destinations — can cause a ripple effect simply by elevating opportunities for women. She ends her talk with a powerful anecdote, urging those of us who have most our needs met to consider what moral responsibility we have to help others:
WuDunn told the story of an American aid worker in Darfur who had seen great suffering but never broke down.
On a vacation back in the United States, she visited her grandmother and noticed a bird feeder in the backyard.
“She was in her grandmother’s backyard and she basically broke down. And she realized that not only was she able to feed and clothe and house herself but also see that people in her country were able to feed wild birds so that they don’t go hungry in the winter. She knew that with that luck and fortune also comes great responsibility.”
I love this message of activism and hope — not victimization and defeat — and how it is particularly focused on the plight of Asian and African women. And I love how it is being championed by a confident, empowered, unapologetic Asian-American woman.
WuDunn’s talk — despite its unintentional Spiderman overtones — empowers women, and dosn’t merely tell just another tale of “poverty porn” (stories of abject poverty around the world told for the mere gratification of wealthy Westerners). Women, in “Half the Sky“, aren’t just victims — women can have the power to be “economic catalysts” for worldwide change, if only we in the First World provide the initial help to spark that revolution. It’s not about sheltering women like porcelain dolls, but about truly recognizing the worth and value of every daughter, sister, wife and mother around the world.
CNN’s article includes the following excerpt from the book:
“So let us be clear about this up front: We hope to recruit you to join an incipient movement to emancipate women and fight global poverty by unlocking women’s power as economic catalysts. That is the process under way — not a drama of victimization but of empowerment, the kind that transforms bubbly teenage girls from brothel slaves into successful businesswomen. This is a story of transformation. It is change that is already taking place, and change that can accelerate if you’ll just open your heart and join in. …
“The tide of history is turning women from beasts of burden and sexual playthings into full-fledged human beings. The economic advantages of empowering women are so vast as to persuade nations to move in that direction.
“Before long, we will consider sex slavery, honor killings and acid attacks as unfathomable as foot-binding. The question is how long that transformation will take and how many girls will be kidnapped into brothels before it is complete — and whether each of us will be part of that historical movement, or a bystander.”