Kristof calls for gender equality
By Leslie Ye, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, July 6, 2012
In 1990, New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof and his wife Sheryl WuDunn traveled to the Hebei province in China. There, they met a girl who had been forced to drop out of school because her family could not afford to pay $13 for her school fees. Kristof wrote a Times column documenting her plight and reader responses began pouring in, with many letters including $13 checks.
Kristof also received a wire transfer of $10,000 and used all of the donated money to subsidize girls’ education at the school in China.
“It was the first time in this area where a girl’s education depended not on her chromosomes but on her intellectual ability,” Kristof said in a lecture to a packed audience in Spaulding Auditorium on Thursday.
Kristof’s talk, “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women All Over the World,” is part of this summer’s “Leading Voices in U.S. Foreign Policy” lecture series. The lecture was based on Kristof’s book of the same title, which will be promoted through a documentary on the Public Broadcasting Station in October and a Facebook game in November, Kristof said.
Gender inequity has become the “central moral challenge” of the 21st century, according to Kristof. The 19th century had to contend with slavery, while the 20th century’s biggest concern was totalitarianism. The fact that there are more males than females in the world today is an illustration of the severity of a global gender imbalance, Kristof said.
“Given equal access to food and health care, women live longer,” he said. “In an equitable world there would be more females, but the fact that there are more males than females is a reflection of the scale and severity of this gender inequity.”
Through practices such as sex-selective abortion and neglect, women are at a systematic, significant disadvantage, according to Kristof. While in Ethiopia, he visited a feeding center that was occupied entirely by girls, many of whom had brothers who were perfectly healthy. Girls are less likely to be a priority when they fall sick or reach school age because sons are seen as a more worthwhile investment, Kristof said.
“There are between 50 and 120 million females missing around the globe,” he said. “In any 10-year period, more females are discriminated against to death than all the people who died in all the genocides in the 20th century.”
Human trafficking is a global problem that “needs to be higher on the agenda,” Kristof said.
In many rural areas, girls are kidnapped at a young age and sold to brothels. Many die of HIV/AIDS and HIV/AIDS-related complications by the time they reach their 20s. The level of violence and coercion involved in keeping the girls under their agents’ control makes forced prostitution a form of slavery, according to Kristof. He related the story of a 14-year-old Cambodian girl who refused to cooperate with a brothel owner, who responded by gouging out one of her eyes and leaving her on the streets.
Sex trafficking and prostitution, however, are not issues confined to countries such as Cambodia, Kristof said. Traffickers are also a presence in the United States, from New York City to more rural areas.
“We need to go after pimps and johns much more and less after girls,” Kristof said. “We need to go after forums where girls are trafficked, like backpage.com. What we’ve lacked is political will.”
Backpage, a free advertising website similar to Craigslist, is run by the New York newspaper Village Voice. Backpage has been widely criticized for its “adult” section, which has generated $2.6 million in revenue from ads selling sex, according to the consulting firm AIM Group.
Kristof encouraged students to devote part of their lives to “an activity larger than yourselves.” Engagement in social justice issues can help people, especially Americans, gain a sense of perspective on world issues, he said.
“The fact that we’re all here today means we’ve truly won the lottery of life,” Kristof said. “When you do win, you have some obligation to respond to some degree. I’d like to encourage you to engage in that effort and gain a measure of satisfaction and fulfillment and, a little bit, help change the world.”
Kristof’s lecture was sponsored by the Office of the President. The next lecture in the series will be given by William Fallon, former commander of the U.S. Central Command, on July 19.