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On the Emancipation of Women

January 16, 2010

Katherine Dykstra interviews Sheryl WuDunn, co-author of Half the Sky, in Guernica:

The statistics that measure instances of violence against women worldwide are astounding both for their magnitude and for the diversity of the abuses they catalog. Last week, in a speech commemorating the fifteenth anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton quoted these: Seventy million women and girls worldwide have been subjected to female genital cutting. Every minute, a woman dies during pregnancy or childbirth. And for every women who dies, another twenty suffer from injury, infection, or disease.

The State Department has estimated that between 600,000 and 800,000 people, 80 percent of whom are women and girls, are trafficked across international borders every year. Virtually every two hours in India, a bride burning—punishment for an insufficient dowry or simply a means of eliminating a hindrance to a remarriage—takes place. And in South and Southeast Asia women are in danger of having acid thrown in their faces, revenge for having rebuffed sexual advances or simply as a form of domestic violence, which disfigures and often blinds them. And on and on and on. But stories of this nature rarely show up on the front page of the paper, or make it onto the evening news, or even get covered online. After all, it isn’t news if it happens all the time.

This phenomenon dawned on New York Times reporters Sheryl WuDunn and Nicholas Kristof not long after they covered the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. In the wake of their reporting, for which they won a Pulitzer Prize, the couple came across a statistic that held that, in China, thirty-nine thousand baby girls die every year from neglect. Or more specifically, from the decision by parents to forgo medical attention, a decision rarely made for baby boys, boys being so much more valuable. Boil that number down and, at the time, as many infant girls were dying every week in China as protesters died at Tiananmen Square. But while the world media buzzed on for months, years, about the student deaths, barely a word was said about the infant girls. [More]

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