I have seen two news stories within the past twenty-four hours which have inspired me to write this post. One was the interview of Melinda Gates (wife of Microsoft's Bill Gates). The other was a news clip about the execution of a woman in Afghanistan yesterday.
If I have a political-issue passion it is women’s issues. I care about American women issues, but my real passion is global issues. If you really look at things in depth, I think you will find that women are the class of people who are most deeply oppressed and against whom the most historically-sustained, egregious treatment is inflicted. I believe it has been this way for a long, long, long, long, long time. We American women have our challenges, but most of us never consider how our sisters across the world fare—much, much worse than do we.
If you are interested in this topic as every thinking/caring person should be (spoken like a true fanatic), then you might want to read Half the Sky by Nichols Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. This book examines the plight of women worldwide but also comes up with an amazing conclusion on the topic of third-world aid: The very best way to elevate impoverished countries is to elevate their women.
This book examines how charitable/foreign aid programs have gone through phases. They have discovered that just giving money to these areas is not ever effective. It changes little because it does nothing to end the cycle (when the money’s gone, the poverty is still there) and it often is used for all kinds of things unintended, never reaching its intended targets.
The idea of equipping the population instead of just giving them money was a better idea, based on the old proverb, “If you give a man a fish you feed him for a day; if you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.” Still, the impact is not what one would want.
So, now policy makers have finally discovered that women are the key to helping society. What they have found is that if you improve women’s plights, those women, in turn, improve the plights of their children and their entire community. If you give a woman some means, usually she will send her kids to school, take care of her neighbor and just generally improve life around her. Here’s a quote from the book summing up this theme:
It's no accident that the countries that have enjoyed an economic take off have been those that educated girls
Notwithstanding the fact that women are the prime “do-gooders” of the world, they are frequently devalued, and the stories and statistics contained Half the Sky will shock your American minds…you need to know them. I will put a few quotes from the book at the end if you are interested after this post.
Now, on to Melinda Gates. She and her husband have the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which does tons of good worldwide in trying to solve global poverty issues. They have been especially known for research in AIDS and malaria preventions, seeing these diseases as major deterrents to moving out of poverty.
But Melinda has put a new issue on her front burner. She was in a village in Africa speaking with women there when one woman said to her “I just wish I could bring all good things to my child before having another.” Melinda says it hit her like a ton of bricks: these woman produce child after child in a world where they cannot adequately take care of them, and they have no control over this process.
She looked around at women barely making it with eight children. She decided that giving these women the right to plan their families is an important thing and she is pushing funding for birth control programs. She is at a summit this week to try to convince world leaders in these areas to fund birth control programs.
Boy, is she meeting resistance.
Some of it is right here at home.
Melinda is a practicing Catholic, and her own bishop has denounced her plans, saying that this would be contrary to God’s law. Melinda was so gracious to say that one does not have to agree with leadership on every point in order to love her church. She is sticking to her guns because she says that in every area where women receive some power, it elevates her community. She believes she is doing the right thing.
Melinda refers to an economic theory term to describe what happens when you elevate women in a society. She calls it a “Virtuous Cycle” of giving, explaining, as do the authors of Half the Sky, that women participate in a cycle of giving if they are given the chance.
I admire Melinda.
And, so, as I thought about this post, onto the television screen comes the other news item of my day: A young Afghan woman was, allegedly, “involved” with two Afghan military officers. A “love triangle” the news reporter called it. Here’s what I’m not understanding, but it is what the report said, “They [the officers?] accused her of adultery.” Of course, that means she must be killed.
She was executed by nine gun shots –still dressed in her head-t0-toe burka—while a big all-male crowd stood around and cheered, clapped and laughed! I am aghast at these animals. Is she worth nothing that the loss of her life—whatever her guilt may be—is not a sobering and quiet event?
No, the truth is that her life was nothing, and her death was mere sport to these men.
By the way, last time I checked, it took at least two to commit adultery—where were the men participants? Why weren’t they dragged out and shot amidst cheering?
Sometimes I just have to think we are the superior gender. Sorry, it’s just where I am today. C
PS – if you’ve stuck with me this far, thanks. Here are some sobering statistics and thoughts from Half the Sky:
- More girls were killed in the last 50 years, precisely because they were girls, than men killed in all the wars in the 20th century.
- The equivalent of 5 jumbo jets worth of women die in labor each day...
- Surveys suggest that about one third of all women worldwide face beatings in the home. Women aged fifteen through forty-four are more likely to be maimed or die from male violence than from cancer, malaria, traffic accidents, and war combined. A major study by the World Health Organization found that in most countries, between 30 percent and 60 percent of women had experienced physical or sexual violence by a husband or boyfriend.