Helping women hold up half the sky

It’s alternatingly a point of pride and embarrassment to be a Canadianwoman. We’re an egalitarian country, but our annual bilateral aidamounts to $1.5 billion, compared to the $1 billion and climbing we putinto the conflict in Afghanistan each year (and at least $10 billion todate).

It’s alternatingly a point of pride and embarrassment to be a Canadian woman. We’re an egalitarian country, but our annual bilateral aid amounts to $1.5 billion, compared to the $1 billion and climbing we put into the conflict in Afghanistan each year (and at least $10 billion to date).

We live in relative utopia, but we turn away from the world’s women, who face oppressive poverty, discrimination and violence.

And what horrors we ignore. In Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s new book, Half the Sky, we learn about women trafficked, drugged, beaten and killed in forced prostitution;

women who die in childbirth or suffer stigmatizing, debilitating pregnancy-related injuries.
These stories aren’t new, but they still fall on deaf ears. I’m guilty of that, rarely donating time or money.
The book’s title and the Chinese proverb it’s derived from — “Women hold up half the sky” — cuts to the heart of our uncomfortable privilege.
The key is helping women elevate themselves through education and economic emancipation, they argue, so hands off:

• Give freely to grassroots charities, which hire savvy locals and can reach poor, rural areas.

• Fund microloans that target women, who are more likely to invest family resources in education, health and income-generating businesses.

• Support education — Kristof and WuDunn cite evidence that educated girls have lower fertility rates (more kids exacerbate poverty), lower childbirth morbidity, are less likely to be abused, and have a greater chance at financial success.

These targeted initiatives have far-reaching effects, changing the way cultures see their women — not as burdens or inferiors, but as individuals that offer social purpose, independence and knowledge.

But why should I gush about this brilliant book? Read for yourself why feminism is still relevant, and why we need a new kind of foreign aid. I hope it embarrasses you enough to do something — it did for me. Camfed, which provides education to African girls, is now getting $10 US a month from me.

 
 
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