“It is not just a women’s rights issue, it is a humanity issue”

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Students from Bethel College earlier this week had the privilege of attending a talk at Saint Mary’s. Dr. Elizabeth McLaughlin, Assistant Professor of Communication received tickets and handed them out to students she thought would be interested in going. Nicholas Kristoff, a journalist for the New York Times and author of Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide was the speaker. Kristoff and his wife Sheryl are the first married couple to win a Pulitzer Prize, and they coauthored the book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.  Kristoff shared from the experiences that led him to write Half the Sky. The title of the book comes from a Chinese saying, “Women hold up half the sky.” Kristoff had the audience raise their hands to show whether they believed there are more women or more men in the world. An overwhelming majority raised their hand for women being the majority of the world’s population. Kristoff informed the audience that the opposite is actually true. If men and women were given equal access to food, water, and medical care, women would outnumber men globally because healthy women live longer than healthy men. However, discrimination to the point of death greatly reduces the world’s population of women. Kristoff raised the point that in the 21st century, the main issue that the world faces is gender problems and inequality. “Women and girls are not the problem,” said Kristoff, “They are the solution.” He explained that in places where women held basic human rights, such as girl being allowed to attend school that the areas were a lot more secure and table. “If we cared about the oppression of women in other cultures and took action we would be changing the lives of not just those women but also those societies,” said Swartz. Kristoff shared several moving stories and pictures illustrating his statement. A young girl named Beatrice in Uganda, Africa, finally went to school at the age of nine when the Heifer International Organization donated a goat to her family. Beatrice became the first person in her family to graduate from elementary school, high school and to eventually to earn a college degree. Kristoff strongly believes in the education of women and he stated that women with more education are more likely to invest in their children and invest in small businesses—therefore giving back to their communities. Kristoff said that global poverty is largely caused by bad spending decisions made by men. 20% of income is spent on things such as alcohol and prostitution, while only 2% is used to fund the education of the children. Kristoff humbly shared what he believes to be a necessary global agenda in order to end poverty. This plan has four parts: working against human sex trafficking, caring for women who would otherwise die during childbirth, encouraging microfinance and increasing education. Kristoff addressed the common apathy toward these issues. He stressed the point that Americans have so much and that it is hard to imagine a place where people struggle for life and simple freedoms every day. “Just by being here tonight,” he explained. “We have won the lottery of life.” Sophomore Kristen Swartz was one of the Bethel students in attendance “I was aware of sex trafficking but I never realized it was such a big deal. I think students would have more of a heart for it if they realized what a big issue it was and how much of an impact focusing on just that one issue can have,” said Swartz. Kristoff shared his frustration over a situation when a teenage girl asks whether she should keep sleeping with her teacher so she could stay in school and continue their education. If she stopped sleeping with their teacher, her teacher would stop paying her school fees and she would have to drop out. However, if she kept sleeping with him, she would face the risk of contracting AIDS or HIV. He went on to encourage men to get involved. Men, he said give the issue a certain credibility that would unfortunately not come from a woman’s being involved in the same way. “It is not just a women’s rights issue,” insisted Kristoff. “It is a humanity issue.” For more information, go to www.halftheskymovement.com. The website also contains links to other organizations, and volunteer and internship opportunities.
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