Two-time Pulitzer Prize winning author and journalist Nicholas Kristof stopped by Minneapolis the other day, and wow am I glad I went to hear him speak. I didn’t know anything about him except that he’s an occasional columnist for the NY Times.
This is a guy who has lived on four continents, reported on six, and traveled to more than 150 countries, where he has experienced wars, confronted warlords, survived an airplane crash, and encountered an Indonesian mob carrying heads on pikes.
But he considers the defining global issues of the last 200+ years to be:
- Slavery (19th century)
- Totalitarianism (20th century)
- Oppression of women and girls (21st century)
So for much of his life, his focus has been on the education (and inherent value) of girls and women throughout the world.
Kristof says that in just this decade, 100 million women will die because they are women--more than all deaths by genocide in the 20th century.
He gave us (terrible) examples from his reporting. Throughout the world, girls are forced to drop out of school because education is not valued for them in their culture. He has found girls starving—literally to death, while their brothers were fed—because whatever resources were available went toward boys. To survive, or even because their families sell them, many of those girls end up being trafficked for labor or sex.
One story was of a girl he came across in a remote village in China who could not afford the $13 for yearly tuition. Kristof wrote about this—in 1990—and people started sending in checks for $13 from all over. He went back and donated that money to that school system on the condition that it go towards educating the community’s girls.
Today, that village is more prosperous and successful than any of the surrounding villages, and its investment in girls has benefitted the entire community, where those many girls who have become successful keep giving back, so others can have the same opportunity, creating what Kristof calls a “virtuous cycle.”
So, among the many horrors he has seen, he’s seen some amazing successes.
He says the $13 scenario taught him about the “drop in the bucket” effect. “$13 seems like a drop in a bucket. But that is how buckets get filled.”
He has spent his life’s work trying to get people to recognize, as he says, that “Talent is universal, but opportunity is not. There is a great divide in the world.”
It’s true. There are 60 million girls worldwide who should be in school but aren’t. One who got the opportunity was Eunice, and you can watch her video below, but you may cry.
How he stays positive is hard to comprehend. He told us of a woman in Africa who was married at 13 by a 50 year old man; she gave birth to a baby that did not survive, and after severe complications from delivery she was left to be fed upon by hyenas in the night (because “demons” had done this to her)—she crawled (her legs didn’t work after delivery) 20 miles to an American missionary. Today, she works at the same hospital she was treated.
And he told us of a 13-year-old girl (in America) injected with heroin so she’d be less resistant when forced into what has become a lifetime of sexual servitude. And yet we punish her for that; She’d been arrested 158 times.
In America, Kristof says most of our ills boil down to the empathy gap. It’s something I’ve long been familiar with, but it always strikes me when I hear the stats:
They do so because in our country, the wealthy don’t encounter the needy—we have gated communities, wealthy neighborhoods, downtown offices accessed through parking garages, all high above our cities and people. But the poor see those in need, and respond. Anyone would. People who see those in need respond.
We’ve just created a world where we can put those in need out of sight. But the need is great.
Check out Kristof’s book with his wife, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.
Donate $13 to Edge of Seven, which works to provide education to disadvantage girls around the world.
And don’t forget to Make a pledge to do good.