Sisterhood Blog

Women: 'The Cause of Our Time'

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

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The New York Times had a fantastic package of stories in its magazine on Sunday focusing on women in the developing world and the impact of their poverty, poor health care and disenfranchisement on overall political and economic progress.

Titled Why Women’s Rights Are the Cause of Our Time, it is an excerpt from a new book, titled Half the Sky by the husband-and-wife journalism team of Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.

WuDunn is a former Times correspondent now working outside journalism, and Kristof is a Times Op-Ed columnist who has done more than any other journalist I can think of in recent times to bring to public attention the issue of the oppression of women in developing countries.

He is one of the great journalists of our time, and the fact that he is a man helps take these issues out of the ghetto of “women’s concerns,” where they have languished too long. You can read more of his columns here.

Sisterhood contributor Rebecca Honig Friedman also takes a look at the Times’ magazine package of stories here. She says that “I also wonder if this notion of saving the women and thus saving the world isn’t a bit naive.”

That’s an unfortunate perspective – here one of the world’s most powerful publications has decided to shine a light on women’s marginalization in developing countries after concluding, as have economists and political theorists as well as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (more on that below), that empowering the disempowered half of populations can create fundamental and lasting change for all people in ways that we’d all like to see.

In any case, these stories make clear that solutions don’t come from “saving” women as Western white knights, but rather enabling the women to save themselves.

One woman who knows first-hand how important it is for women to be their own best allies is Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is also interviewed by the magazine.

In the interview, which you can read here, she says:

I happen to believe that the transformation of women’s roles is the last great impediment to universal progress — that we have made progress on many other aspects of human nature that used to be discriminatory bars to people’s full participation. But in too many places and too many ways, the oppression of women stands as a stark reminder of how difficult it is to realize people’s full human potential…So-called women’s issues are stability issues, security issues, equity issues.

Another of the powerful pieces of journalism in this issue is this article about an Afghan girl, Shamsia, whose face was sprayed with skin-eating acid for the sin of going to school. According to the piece, by Dexter Filkins, her attacker was paid by part of the Pakistani government.

At the end of their cover story, Kristof and WuDunn write, about economic aid to women, that “we like to think of aid as a kind of lubricant, a few drops of oil in the crankcase of the developing world, so that gears move freely again on their own.”

Journalism can help open that can of lubricant.

Kudos to Kristof, WuDunn and magazine editor Gerald Marzorati for doing what journalism does best: shining a bright light on dark places.



Comments
Alix Thu. Aug 27, 2009

OMG. somehow in the coverage of this, i had managed to not hear about the part where she so graphically describes his you-know-what. I really did not need to know that. I can't help but find this whole story hilarious though in a really, really sick way.

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