Monday, August 24, 2009

Half the Sky


This Sunday's New York Times has a powerful piece by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn about the paramount importance of promoting gender equity on a global scale. Below are the opening paragraphs:

IN THE 19TH CENTURY, the paramount moral challenge was slavery. In the 20th century, it was totalitarianism. In this century, it is the brutality inflicted on so many women and girls around the globe: sex trafficking, acid attacks, bride burnings and mass rape.

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.(Read the whole thing here)

While you're enjoying the NYT's piece, you should also read this provocative take on recent legal issues regarding women in three Islamic countries at the excellent Altmuslim.com.

I liked the idea of the emancipation of women being framed as the global, moral challenge facing humanity in this century by Kristof and WuDunn. Their effort to draw attention to the plight of women and girls and its relationship to the poverty and extremism that ultimately threaten all of us is awesome. If the world is indeed awakening to the powerful truth that women and girls are the solution my hope is that we are awakening to a related truth; men must recognize that the emancipation of women is a men's issue. 'Abdu'l-Baha put it this way, "When men own the equality of women there will be no need for them to struggle for their rights!" (Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 163) One of the definitions of owning something is to admit as being in accordance with fact, truth, or a claim; acknowledge. The shortest path to the full emancipation of women and thus humanity itself, is for men to acknowledge that women are our equals and act accordingly. I include men who profess a belief in gender equality but engage in attitudes and behaviors (however unconsciously) that undermine it. Men have nothing to lose and everything to gain, "As long as women are prevented from attaining their highest possibilities, so long will men be unable to achieve the greatness which might be theirs" (Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 133).