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Human Rights Advocate Nicholas Kristof Talks Gender Equality At USC

Greg Asciutto |
November 5, 2012 | 10:37 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

Nicholas Kristof talks gender equality at USC (Judy Wang)
Nicholas Kristof talks gender equality at USC (Judy Wang)
Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof spoke before a packed crowd at the University of Southern California on Monday, detailing his work in the fight for gender equality across the globe. 

His "Half the Sky" movement, a collaboration with his wife Sheryl WuDunn, is a leading voice for women's rights both domestically and internationally. Along with the book, "Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide," the "Half the Sky" documentary and television series also explore the fundamental issues facing voiceless women in the 21st century. 

In his presentation, Kristof explained that globally, men outnumber women in terms of population size but women live longer when given equal opportunities.

"But the point is it's not an equitable world," he said, calling gender inequity the "paramount moral challenge" of the century.

"If there isn’t enough food to go around, you feed your son and you don’t feed your daughter," Kristof said. "When your son is sick you take him to the doctor; when your daughter is sick, you feel her head and say, 'We’ll see how you’re doing tomorrow.'"

Human trafficking and rampant sexual abuse thrive in male-dominant cultures, he said. Recalling his work in Cambodia, Kristof described how he bought two human slaves, both for less than $200 apiece. 

"When you get a receipt for a human being in the 21st century, something truly is fundamentally wrong," he said.

According to Kristof, education is the key to eliminating such plights of women and reducing the gender gap. He cited his work in the Hubei province of China, about which he wrote a series of articles concerning "the phenomenon of girls having to drop out of school because they were girls." 

Readers, in response to his work, ultimately sent the financial support needed to allow girls in one village to finish school. 

"So many girls . . . got a great education and a great job that benefitted not only themselves but the entire community," he said. "It created this virtuous spiral of development that benefit[ed] men as much as women." 

Kristof also shared a story of a Ugandan girl who was forced to quit school until her parents started selling goat milk. She eventually became the first person to study outside of her village and received her master's degree from the University of Arkansas in 2010.

"The best leverage you have to bring about change is precisely to invest in girls' education, to bring those educated women out of the margins of society into the mainstream," he said.

The question many face, Kristof said, is why they should involve themselves in such humanitarian efforts. "Does it really make a difference?" he posed to the audience. 

"I think there's a real benefit . . . to have a pillar [of our lives] devoted to fulfillment or meaning," he said, encouraging activism and engagement in causes larger than one's own. 

"We've all won the lottery of life," he said. "There becomes an obligation to discharge as well." 


Reach Staff Reporter Greg Asciutto hereFollow Greg on Twitter.



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