Today we have a post from incoming freshman, Sarah Kranau. Sarah is from Tulsa, Oklahoma and intends to major in Journalism at the School of Media and Public Affairs. If you would like to be our next guest blogger just send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment.
As soon as I heard the book choice for the GW First Chapter program on the last day of Colonial Inauguration, I knew I had picked the right school. I had actually already read the book once and was excited to revisit it, hopefully catching any details I may have missed during my first reading. I discovered the book while researching for a chapel presentation I had volunteered to create and present to my high school on the topic of global women’s rights today. I had taken an English course titled “Women’s Lives and Literature” the first semester of my senior year and had instantly latched on to the fight against gender oppression in the world today. I had never really known what to say when asked what issues I felt strongly about, but suddenly it seemed I had found my cause in helping other women. I hope that my chapel presentation (based on much of the information in this book) helped my student body to realize the importance of this cause and why it simply cannot be ignored. At the close of the school year I received the Senior Religion Award for my chapel presentation, hopefully a sign that I made an impact on those around me with my message.
There are so many topics to discuss in this book, I honestly don’t know where to begin. If I had to choose one main theme to discuss, I would have to select the overwhelming sense of awe and respect I have for these women. In reading their stories, I can’t help but place myself in their situation and compare it to my own life. What I continually found myself realizing was just how strong these women are, and how quite honestly I could never be strong enough to survive such horrible suffering and abuse. It’s a truly humbling experience to read about any of the women in the book, but the one that always comes to my mind first is the story of Mahabouba and her incredible will to live despite all odds.
Mahabouba was beaten constantly as the second wife of a man far older than her when she was barely a teenager. She soon became pregnant and suffered an obstructed labor, then a resulting fistula. She was literally left alone to rot and be eaten alive by hyenas. After fending them off with only a stick, she crawled and dragged herself on a day long journey to a missionary who at last offered her the help she needed so desperately. Mahabouba saved herself from her impossibly doomed situation, all by the age of fourteen. It sounds almost too horrible to imagine, and yet it’s real. I know that I would have given up long before Mahabouba, and I’m sure that most women would realize the same in trying to visualize themselves in her shoes. It’s almost impossible for us to imagine the lives of women like her, who struggle daily just to stay alive. It certainly puts some perspective in my own life when I feel depressed over a bad day due to an argument with a friend or a trip to the mall that left me feeling less than satisfied.
While the sheer reality of the horror these women endure is a powerful and moving piece of this book, another key part is the simple logic put forth that really makes the reader stop and think. The quotation from Asha-Rose Migiro used as the opening of Chapter Seven, which focuses on maternal mortality, makes an obvious but crucial statement, “Would the world stand by if it were men who were dying just for completing their reproductive functions?” (WuDunn 109).
This simple point really puts in perspective how utterly ridiculous and absolutely wrong it is to allow women to die under the excuse of childbirth. Just as men don’t die due to their reproductive contribution, neither should women. Yes, we carry the far more difficult part of the process (literally), but that is absolutely not an excuse to allow us to die while doing so. When examining this statement, it’s impossible to avoid the absurdity of the truth; women are dying when we have every possible way to stop it.
Another seemingly obvious but very important point put forth in this book is the idea suggested in the title, that women really do “hold up half the sky.” Stepping aside from the subject of women’s oppression and human rights for a moment allows us to see the issue instead as the key economic issue in the world today. It shows how literally absurd it is that HALF of the world’s resources are being wasted and that if we harnessed this power, we could bring the poorest countries of the world into the twenty first century. Even those who aren’t moved by the topic of human rights can surely be motivated when approaching the situation from the view of economic gain. Just think how the world would react if instead of using the world’s food supply, we simply let half of it rot away. It’s the same principle here, and yes, it’s ridiculous. Harnessing the power women can have in the world should be the utmost goal of every government looking to improve their standing in the world today, whether or not they are concerned with women’s empowerment.
In reading this book, it is hard not to become somewhat overwhelmed by staggering statistics, amazingly triumphant stories, and massive organizations that have met with great success in helping hundreds of women at a time… I certainly did, and I think it’s because of this reason that more individuals do not jump into action upon discovering the truth about women’s oppression. The word is out, but the call to action is still unanswered; I would guess because it appears to be an impossible task. How can one person, or even multiple people, save the millions of women who are suffering and oppressed? Well honestly the simply answer is one person can’t. But one person CAN help one other person. And that person can then in turn help another. And if everyone helps just one person, then we begin to see the greater impact of our actions. And if it seems like helping one person will not change a darn thing, I offer to them one of the quotations used in the book:
“A man goes out on the beach and sees that it is covered with starfish that have washed up in the tide. A little boy is walking along, picking them up and throwing them back into the water. ‘What are you doing, son?’ the man asks. ‘You see how many starfish there are? You’ll never make a difference.’ The boy paused thoughtfully, and picked up another starfish and threw it into the ocean. ‘It sure made a difference to that one,’ he said.”
-Naka Nathaniel (WuDunn 45)
Just as the boy’s help made a difference for that one starfish, our help makes a difference to the woman who receives it, regardless of whether we help one woman or a hundred. In reminding those around us that no amount of help is too insignificant, we can all work together to give support to the fight against women’s oppression worldwide.
Having discovered this book so close to the end of my high school career, I wasn’t able to take my work for the cause any further than my chapel presentation in my school community before graduation. Now that I’m beginning at GW, I would love to become involved in creating ways to raise awareness and support for this cause in the GW community. I’m hoping that others in the freshmen class will be as moved by this reading selection as I was and feel the same way. Thank you for picking such a wonderful book.