Kristof: Empowering Women Will Curb Human Rights Abuse
February 09, 2011
On Tuesday, Nicholas D. Kristof, a columnist for the New York Times and a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner, presented the College's inaugural Saint André Bessette, C.S.C. Lecture. Kristof discussed the themes highlighted in his best-selling book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, which he co-authored with his wife and fellow reporter, Sheryl WuDunn.
Kristof returned to the U.S. over the weekend after spending a turbulent week reporting from Egypt. As it's been widely-reported, journalists, including Kristof, have faced attacks while in Egypt.
"I was sneaking past check points where they were looking for journalists, past these thugs with clubs with nails embedded in them," Kristof told his Shields Science Center audience after being welcomed by Paul DaPonte, vice president for mission at Stonehill.
For years, Kristof has been travelling the globe, bringing to light human rights abuses, particularly those suffered by women.
Kristof said he and his wife first began to think about these issues when they were living in China.
"We began to see not only human rights abuses that were tied to gender but also what happens when you invest in girls' education.
In 1990, Kristof and WuDunn met a young girl in the Hubei province of China, whose family refused to pay for their daughter's education, which cost $13.
"We used this girl as our poster child," recalled Kristof, who began telling the girl's story in his New York Times column, and soon, donations to help send girls in that village to school, came pouring in.
Kristof says that one village in the Hubei province was completely transformed, in that girls in the area obtained great educations and good jobs and in turn, sent money back to their village to help other girls.
"It created this virtuous spiral of development that was utterly transformative."
It was experiences like these that made Kristof and his wife consider how people could address more effectively poverty and injustice.
"We argue that in the 19th century, the central moral challenge was slavery. In the 20th century, it was totalitarianism. In this century...it is the oppression of women."
Kristof shared several powerful stories and pictures from his book Half the Sky which reveal the harsh realities women and girls around the globe face on a daily basis, from maternal mortality to human trafficking.
Kristof and his wife have investigated brothels in Cambodia where 12-year-old girls work as sex slaves. They have also documented the suffering and ostracism of African and Asian teens afflicted with obstetric fistulas, a severe medical condition which affects pregnant girls with an undeveloped pelvis after severe or failed childbirth.
"Women and girls aren't the problem. They are the solution," said Kristof, who believes the best way to fight poverty and extremism, is to educate and empower women and girls.
Kristof encouraged students to "get out of their comfort zones" and get out into the world, even if it's "on the wrong side of the tracks" in America.
"The whole point of the experience is to feel bewildered and overwhelmed at times and to give your parents gray hairs."
He also encouraged students to get engaged in a cause or issue that speaks to them. "That can be a pillar of your life. A chance to give back always abounds to finding oneself," said Kristof.
While Kristof admitted to having seen the grimiest of things and sites throughout his reporting, he noted, "when I come back home, the thing which leaves the deepest impression on me isn't the terrible things I see, but the incredibly heartwarming things I see.
"In the worst of humanity you find the best. This isn't a depressing field; it's an inspiring field."
For more information, contact Communications and Media Relations at 508-565-1321.