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Kristof tackles women’s Issues

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New York Times collumist Nikolas Kristof (guernicamag.com)

On Tuesday evening, Drew’s Center on Religion, Culture and Conflict welcomed Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times to the stage at the DOYO.

During a warm introduction from University Interim President Vivian A. Bull, the audience learned that Bull holds Kristof very close to her heart. While she is a fond admirer of the work he does, her relationship with him predates most of his formal accomplishments.

Prior to her presidency at Drew, Bull met Kristof while she was employed by Linfield College as their president. “Nick’s parents lived in the area around the college,” Bull said with a smile, “and Nick was known for taking his dates to the college where there were free movies being shown.”

After sharing a few light-hearted memories, Bull explained that she “came to know and love Nick’s work,” and when he returned from travel in China, she did whatever she could within her power to hire Nick and his wife as adjunct professors.

In a more formal introduction, Bull explained that he is a man that has traveled, worked and reported on over 150 countries and is incredibly invested in the development of the world’s poor.

“I am personally in his debt, as we all are,” she said before Kristof took the stage.

In opening his lecture entitled “Half The Sky,” focusing on global women’s issues, Kristof quickly pointed out that many may find it surprising that a man writes so much about women’s issues. “I can tell you I never really imagined writing about these topics,” he said.

While Kristof may not have ever envisioned a career in which he would tackle the most intense issues surrounding women daily, Kristof is now incredibly well-versed, and passionate about the topics his daily work includes.

Through a powerpoint slideshow, Kristof began with a slide that read, “Women hold up half the sky.” This Chinese proverb also happens to be the title of the book that he recently had published with his wife. In introducing the topic, as well as his book, Kristof explained, “The degree of social injustices that are focused on women and girls is incredibly harsh.”

After making this point, Kristof went on to explain stories of specific women and girls that he has encountered through his work. He opened with the story of a bright young girl in China who was not allowed to attend school. He explained that upon discovering this girl, he wrote an article for the times in order to advocate the importance of education being readily accessible to females. As a result of the article, Kristof explained that the Times began receiving checks in order to help support the focus of his article, and to help keep these girls in school.

In addition to the checks for small amounts, arrived one $10,000 check. As Kristof explained, he was ecstatic. He could not wait to tell the girls that money had been raised to keep them all in the education system. “Shortly after I made the phone call to China, I called the donor to thank him for his generous donation,” Kristof explained. “It turns out, there was a banking error and he only had the intentions of donating one hundred dollars,” he said as the audience gasped. “Well, thinking quick on his toes, this guy did not miss a beat. He explained that under the circumstances, the bank would be more than happy to donate the money,” Kristof said with a laugh.

While he delivered this portion of the lecture with some humor, he explained that on a very serious note, this girl went on to be the first in her family to earn a degree. “This little bit of money caused a major transformation in this Chinese village. It also lead Sheryl (Kristof’s wife) and me to become very invested in these issues.”

In transitioning to the next part of his speech, Kristof went on to assert his view that in the 20th century, totalitarianism was the biggest social issue. Now, Kristof feels it is gender inequity. “Are there more males or females in the world?” he asked the audience. With the majority of responses being female, he quickly explained that we were incorrect. “There may be more females in the U.S, Europe, even at Drew,” he explained, “but the same can not be said for other places in the world.”

As he pulled up a slide with the photo of a clearly starved young female, he began to touch on feeding centers in Ethiopia. “Feeding centers are all girls. It is considered normal in some places of the world to consciously starve your female child.”

After discussing through photos the harsh ways in which female children are treated outside of the U.S, Kristof went on to discuss the importance of putting women in the workforce. “Women and girls are not the problem, they are the solution,” he stated. “If you educated a girl, it has a dramatic impact on the number, and outcome of the children she has.”

Following this discussion through slides, Kristof also touched upon sex trafficking, reproductive health and circled back to education. He explained that 10 times as many women are being brought overseas presently than in the past, and in places like Cambodia, women are so “cheap” to buy that they are beginning to appear “disposable.”

Additionally, Kristof went on to explain that in researching sex trafficking, he actually purchased two girls himself. “I payed $150 for one of the girls, and $200 for the other. What shocked me the most was the fact that I got a written receipt,” he said. “In the 21st century, I was given a written receipt for buying a human being. That made me incredibly uneasy.”

After elaborating on this issue a bit further, and telling the other women’s’ stories, he has come into contact with, Kristof said, “We have a huge problem right here in the United States, we do not have the authority, at this point, to regulate this in other countries.”

“Victims are being treated as criminals,” Kristof stated, while touching upon the pimp/prostitute issue. “Women, who are forced into actions by pimps, are being persecuted and arrested when they are a victim.”

In touching on issues of reproductive health, Kristof shared the story of a young woman in Ethiopia who was forcefully married to a sixty year old man at the age of twelve. After becoming pregnant, this woman suffered Cephalopelvic Disproportion, where she uncontrollably leaked fluids because her body was not yet ready to carry a baby. Kristof explained that this woman felt it was her only hope to crawl 30 miles to an American missionary who could get her medical attention. After crawling 30 miles, this woman was finally taken to the hospital and into surgery. “After becoming strong enough, this woman became a nurse at the hospital because the staff noticed just how smart she was.”

As Kristof began to tie his speech together, he once again stressed the importance of education. “Education is an area where you really get leverage,” he said. “If we educate enough women a change can really happen.”

In the wrap up of his speech, Kristof encouraged people to get more involved. “It’s not that we don’t know how to solve these issues…It is hard to make these projects work. There is always the question of, ‘why should we care?’ The U.S is an inward country, we need to look out.”

“We must alter our attitude of, ‘it’s too bad what happens, but let’s solve our own problems first,” he said. “We are hardwired to benefit from learning. It is a proven fact that we get as much pleasure from giving as we do from receiving.”

“Engaging with the less fortunate gives us an incredible perspective,” he said. “Even just sitting here means to me that we’ve won the lottery of life. I encourage all of you to engage in these issues, gain perspective and begin to change the world at the margins,” he concluded.

For more information on Kristof, his talk and his book, and his mission, visit www.halftheskymovement.org.