A Pulitzer Prize–winning husband-and-wife reporter team track the growing movement to empower women in the developing world.
Kristof and WuDunn (Thunder from the East: Portrait of a Rising Asia, 2000, etc.) traveled through Africa and Southeast Asia meeting with victims of sex trafficking, forced prostitution and various forms of gender-based neglect and violence, as well as interviewing those who are making a difference in the lives of impoverished and abused women. While they provide historical background and cite grim statistics to back their claims of oppression, the impact of their report comes from the personal stories of remarkable women, such as Mukhtar Mai, a Pakistani woman who was gang-raped. Instead of killing herself as was expected by her culture, she fought back, won compensation and is using the money to build a girls’ high school. The authors argue that fighting back is key and that education that will empower women is crucial to changing culturally embedded attitudes. Along with the success stories, Kristof and WuDunn report on the failure of large-scale international aid, which often comes in the form of what they term “tree-top” projects as opposed to grassroots efforts. The authors are especially effective at getting women to speak openly about their lives, and they do not hesitate to write about unpleasant facts, bad outcomes and unintended consequences: Women are often the abusers of other women; women freed from brothels sometimes return for drugs or money; introduction of a cash crop to help women earn money for their families can end up polluting the environment. Also noteworthy is the authors’ willingness to say what is politically incorrect: When microloans are made to men, the money is likely to go toward instant gratification—alcohol, drugs and prostitutes—while women are more apt to spend it on family health and educating children. Pointing out that the emancipation of girls enabled China’s economic surge and that the status of women is “the greatest handicap of Muslim Middle Eastern societies today,” Kristof and WuDunn forcefully contend that improving the lot of girls and women benefits everyone. They conclude with specific steps that individuals can take to support the empowerment movement.
Intelligent, revealing and important.