On Sunday evening, I went to hear Nicholas Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, speak about their new book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. I have not yet read the book, but listening to Kristof and WuDunn gave me a good sense of what to expect. The book (which highlights the work of Tostan, an AJWS grantee in Senegal dedicated to ending female genital cutting and forced marriage) exposes the egregious oppressions of women worldwide—sex trafficking, gender-based violence and maternal mortality. It also posits that the status of women is a prism through which we can understand and address global crises. To fight extremism, poverty, global hunger and just about every other oppression, empowering women is key.
You may have read Kristof’s and WuDunn’s article “The Women’s Crusade” in a recent edition of NY Times Magazine that focuses exclusively on women’s issues. Global statistics on the abuse of women and girls are numbing. Girls vanish, in large part, because they don’t get the same health care and food as boys. I’d known that over 60 percent of the world’s hungry people are women but what I hadn’t learned about was the relationship between malnutrition and maternal health. Anemia contributes to 20 percent of all maternal deaths for pregnant women worldwide. Additionally, serious iodine deficiency (IDD) during pregnancy often results in stillbirths, miscarriages and congenital abnormalities such as cretinism—a grave, irreversible form of mental retardation that affects people living in iodine-deficient areas of Africa and Asia. IDD also causes mental impairment that lowers intellectual prowess at home, at school, and at work.
AJWS is committed to advancing the status of women and recognizes the critical role women play in alleviating global hunger. One example: AJWS has been supporting an NGO called Rural Organization for Social Education (ROSE) which has been organizing landless women and marginal landholders in the Pudokatti district of Tamil Nadu into farming collectives for the past 15 years. ROSE helps women gain access to land and seeds, and share expertise and resources. With AJWS’s support, ROSE has trained nearly 24,000 people—mostly women—to enhance the nutrients in their soil, irrigate crops, manage pests and raise livestock.