Creating Gender Equality In The 21st Century

I grew up in the 60s in Midwest America. It was a time of change in the U.S. when a new sweep at gender equality crossed our nation. I was a child before the women’s movement and a woman in its aftermath. Women gained many newfound freedoms; but what if I had been born in another era or another country where gender equality is far from a basic human right.

Nichlas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s recent book “Half the Sky” is a call of awakening for all men and women to take action and right the wrongs existing in the world today because of gender inequality.

As they so clearly point out, this is not a women’s rights issue; it is an issue of human rights.

The facts are startling and too hard to forget.

A conservative estimate is that 3 million women and girls are slaves (some put the number higher than 10 million).
It is estimated that 2 million girls disappear a year due to gender discrimination (deaths due to things like withholding vaccinations, not seeking medical care, etc. because the child is a girl).
More girls have been killed in the last fifty years because they were girls than all men were killed in battle in the 20th century.
Burning a girl or woman (with kerosene or acid) due to disobedience occurs once every two hours.
It’s hard to ‘wrap my head’ around these numbers while going to the grocery, working at the university and doing my day to day routines knowing that just because someone is female she is being raped, burned, or killed — within cultures that see it as acceptable.

But awakenings can happen — it did for people in America in the 60s and it can for people world-wide. In my own short lifetime, I’ve seen cultural beliefs change radically. Strongly held beliefs of ‘better than/less than’ because of color or gender have virtually been eradicated (like polio) in less than three generations.

Cultural change happens when people speak out. Kristof and WuDunn’s book helps by telling the stories of those affected by gender inequality. In the aftermath of reading their book, I saw a television special on ’sexual slavery’ in America (it is not only happening beyond our borders), and I read the play ‘Ruined’ by Pulitzer Prize winning author Lynn Nottage re-telling the horrors for women and girls in the Congo. Talking, writing, and sharing the stories of those affected by gender inequality is a way for an awakening to spread.

The stories remind me of the fallacy of the statement “Ignorance is Bliss”. As we wake up to the pain and suffering related to the ignorance of gender inequality, we may notice how easy it is to be ‘ignorant’ and pretend it is happening somewhere ‘over there’. That kind of bliss pales in comparison to the bliss arising in the power of knowledge.

It is that kind of power that can change the world.

I think of girls and women who can’t imagine a different kind of world, like many women here in the U.S. before the women’s movement. The status quo is ‘just the way it is’. Those that do think otherwise in countries of extreme gender inequality do not have a means of being heard. But we can listen, and our voices can make their way across oceans, country boundaries, and illiteracy.

A single voice becomes a crescendo when it arises in unison with others. And voices in unison can create a world where gender inequality no longer exists.

For information, see Kristof and WuDunn: Half the Sky (2009) or visit Equality Now