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Kristof highlights global gender inequality


Nicholas Kristof Times columnist

By Hallie Jordan     4/15/10 7:00pm

The New York Times journalist and op-ed columnist Nicolas Kristof brought many personal accounts of suffering he has seen among women throughout the world to a filled Doré Commons at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy April 8. Kristof is a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and has traveled to 140 countries. Much of his work focuses on the Darfur region and human trafficking. In addition to his journalistic work, Kristof has devoted efforts to advocacy, in the belief that helping and educating women will help fight extremism and worldwide poverty.

The event "Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide" was given in conjunction with Rice 360ø, an organization that brings students to foreign countries to broad their perspectives, helped promote education and opportunity for young people while she was overseas. Three students, Amanda Hu, Lila Kerr and Josh Ozer, spoke about their experiences abroad in developing countries where they have worked to promote global health.

According to Kristof, gender inequality and discrimination is a problem around the world, demonstrated by a higher global male population. Education of women, he said, will help alleviate their pain as well as helping to improve social conditions in general.

"In the last half-century or so, more women have been discriminated against to death than all the people who died in all the battlefields of all the wars of the 20th century," Kristof said.

Kristof went on to highlight situations where he has witnessed women suffering in both Cambodia and Ethiopia.

On one trip, Kristof went to see a brothel in Cambodia. There he found two girls, ages 14 and 15, who were being forced to work as sex slaves, he said.

"I was just blown away," Kristof said. "I spent the afternoon with two best friends in a brothel. Her stepfather had sold one of the girls while the other had been kidnapped by a neighbor who she had trusted. It was awful; they were never going to get out."

The 15-year-old's mother had gone looking for her in the city's red-light district, where missing girls are often found, Kristof said. Her mother found her daughter but was told she would have to buy her back, and she did not have the money, Kristof said.

"I could not believe this was happening," Kristof said. "Frankly, I walked out of that brothel knowing that I had a great front-page story. But I knew the girls would stay in the brothel and probably die there, and I felt like I was somehow exploiting them."

Several years later, when Kristof went back to Cambodia to write about women in brothels, he made a decision to aid two new girls he met after an unsuccessful attempt to find those he had met previously.

"I called up The New York Times lawyer, and I said, 'David, do we have a policy on buying human beings?' Turned out we didn't," Kristof said.

Kristof paid $350 to buy both girls out of the brothel.

"And I got receipts," he said.

Kristof pointed out that sex trafficking happens in the United States as well as around the world. He referenced an article in the April issue of Texas Monthly about sex trafficking in Houston.

While in Ethiopia, Kristof learned about another kind of abuse against women - this type experienced during childbirth.

One in seven women dies during childbirth in Ethiopia, Kristof said. A 13-year-old girl he met in the country was married off to a man more than 60 years old. She became pregnant about a year later. Because her body was still underdeveloped when she gave birth, she developed a disease called obstetric fistula, which causes the body's reproductive organs to rupture. The disease also causes the person to have body odor and leak bodily fluids. It can also cause paralysis of the legs.

Because of her disease, the villagers put this girl in a hut at the edge of the village after she gave birth so the hyenas could attack her at night, Kristof said.

"She is just the most unbelievably strong woman imaginable," Kristof said. "She waved a stick above her head all night long to keep the hyenas away. She knew there was an American missionary in a town 35 miles away. She started crawling."

Eventually the girl made it to the American, who helped her get a $350 corrective surgery, Kristof said.

"The people at the hospital saw she was really bright and capable and asked her to stay on as a nurse," Kristof said. "This is an example of how you can get a real productive resource for a community and person for the nation as a whole. There really is opportunity."

Amanda Hu, a Baker College senior, went to Lesotho last summer with Rice 360ø. While in Lesotho, Hu and her group worked to weatherize a school that had been abandoned.

"I could definitely relate to a lot of the stories that Kristof was telling," Hu said. "He is a very good journalist and very good at making his stories come alive."

The climate is cold in Lesotho, making it difficult to go to school in a non-insulated building, Hu said. About 40 students now attend the school Hu's group helped revitalize.

"What Kristof said about girls needing to be educated really resonated with my experience," Hu said. "Girls in Lesotho often do not go to school and stay at home and take care of family members starting at a very young age."

Kristof said he believes that education for girls will help alleviate some of the issues they currently face. He also thinks that a grassroots approach to world aid really can make a difference.

"You're not going to solve this problem all at once, but on the other hand, worry more about helping those you can. It won't solve the global problem, but it makes a difference to those you do help," Kristof said.

Kristof's new book, Half the Sky, addresses the importance of educating women and includes fuller accounts of his travels and experiences. For more information, visit www. halftheskymovement.org.

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