“Women aren’t the problem, they are the solution,” Nicholas Kristof, author and New York Times op-ed columnist, said during a lecture Monday, discussing the importance of women in developing countries.
He said women are the greatest and most under-used natural resource.
The lecture — held in Saint Mary’s O’Laughlin Auditorium — focused on themes from the book he co-authored with his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, titled “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.”
The book tells stories of the women he and his wife have met during their travels and even some women whose lives Kristof directly affected.
Kristof said he believed the largest problem facing the 21st century is gender inequality.
“When you put together this kind of lethal discrimination on top of sex-selective abortion, then you have somewhere between 60 and 100 million females who have been discriminated against to death in the world,” Kristof said.
He used several stories from his own experiences throughout the lecture, including an anecdote from when he was covering a story on human trafficking in Cambodia. He said he went to a brothel to talk to the women, and found one young girl whose mother didn’t have the money to buy her daughter back. Kristof bought two of the girls to free them from the brothel. He said he received receipts for both of the them.
“When you get a written receipt for another human being, that’s just a disgrace to all of mankind,” Kristof said.
Kristof offered ideas to help improve conditions for women in these countries, highlighting education as one of the more important steps to the problem.
“There is no magic bullet to fighting poverty,” Kristof said. “But, the single thing that is closest, that makes more of a difference than any other, is education.”
He said there were small solutions to the problem that would help increase attendance in schools. Worms were one problem he touched on that kept children out of the classroom. He also said many high school-aged girls would have to miss class due to their menstrual cycles because they did not have the proper sanitary materials to deal with it. Kristof used these examples to show “cheap” solutions to the problem people don’t generally consider.
“It’s not just a matter of putting up school buildings,” Kristof said. “It’s things we never even think about.”
He said for college students to really be educated, they need to spend time abroad in developing nations.
“One of the reasons I really encourage you to go out and spend time in the grassroots is because then you’ll have a better sense of what does work to make that kind of difference,” Kristof said.
He said he recognizes these issues are “depressing” and seem “vast,” but even helping one person is making a difference.
“What is important to know is that you truly can make a deep difference with some people, and that is an incredibly important difference,” Kristof said. “You don’t have to solve the whole problem to make a difference.”
He said he has seen some terrible things in his travels, saying it takes the worst of humanity to bring out the best in it.
“It truly does bring out the best of humanity and they express that humanity with courage, with altruism and it’s very inspiring,” Kristof said.
In closing, Kristof said he did not merely want to educate students on these issues, but also generate action.
“For you students to have some pillar throughout your life that is about some larger cause, I think would be a major source of fulfillment for you,” Kristof said.