As a storyteller—in his journalism as well as in his books—it would be unfitting if Nicholas Kristof, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist, had not used this skill as he spoke in front of a full auditorium at Goucher College in Baltimore on March 11. While he addressed the nature of his research and journalism and spoke to some of his conflicts and criticisms during a question and answer session, the content of his lecture focused less on himself and more on the women and girls who have informed this work.
Titled the same as his book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, Kristof’s talk chronicled much of the work he and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, have carried out in advocating for the rights and contributions of women throughout the world. Throughout the evening, he shared the stories of women and girls’ traumas and inspiring successes to depict the benefits of access to resources in creating a “virtuous cycle … that truly benefits the entire community.”
In driving his reporting in this direction, Kristof identified the oppression of women and girls as the “central moral challenge” faced by the world in the 21st century, likening it to slavery in the 19th century and totalitarianism in the 20th. “When I say that people think it’s meant in a hyperbolic way, and it’s not,” he said. “I think that’s absolutely the case.”
While there is a common perception that there is a greater global population of females than males—as represented by the show of hands in the auditorium when put to a vote—the truth is, in fact, otherwise. In what Kristof called “equitable societies” such as America and Europe, and given access to health care and education, women live longer and exceed men in numbers. In the places from which Kristof’s stories and reports come, however, boys are privileged over girls in distribution of scarce resources, including those as crucial as food, water, health care, and education. If a girl lives long enough to bear children, her lack of education could mean a higher birth rate, leading to high infant and childhood mortality rates and thinly spread resources for her children who survive.
Despite the stunning statistics, Kristof remains adamant in his belief that “women and girls are not the problem, but rather the solution” to solving global crises. At the top of the agenda for doing this are three topics in particular: human trafficking, reproductive health, and education. “There are no silver bullets in addressing these challenging issues, here no more than abroad, but we do, in a sense, have silver buckshot,” Kristof said, referring to the beneficial combination of these and other solutions.
Through his experience, Kristof has seen that when women and girls receive education and access to resources that fulfill basic needs, they are able to integrate into local and formal economies, make choices about family planning, and positively and directly impact not only their communities, but their entire countries.
Kristof is currently working on another book with his wife, and their Half the Sky movement continues to expand.
Kaitlin Higgins is an editorial intern to The Burton Wire.