Saturday, September 11, 2010

Half the Sky: What You Can Do Right Now: Kristof and WuDunn

In their book, Half the Sky, Kristof and WuDunn present many tales of women who suffer, but still manage—with a little help—to succeed. They end their book with suggestions on how the reader can contribute to making women’s lives a bit better.
"Go to Global Giving or Kiva and open an account. Both sites are people-to-people (P2P), meaning they link you directly to a person in need overseas, and this makes them an excellent way to dip your toe in. Global Giving lets you choose a grass roots project to which to give money in education, health, disaster relief, or more than a dozen other areas around the developing world. Kiva lets you do the same for microlending to entrepreneurs."I tried the Kiva site and it was about as easy as ordering a book from Amazon. I contributed a small amount and joined with almost 100 others to fund a fish-selling business owned by a group of women in Senegal. It felt good!

The authors support these activities with stories of how women have been helped. One they include in the book involves a Pakistani woman named Saima. She was a typical Pakistani wife in that she was expected to leave the house only with her husband’s permission and in the company of a relative. Her husband was unemployed and they were going deeper into debt. She had to send her first daughter to live with a relative because they cold not afford to feed her. Then to everyone’s horror, she gave birth to another girl. She did not have a good life. Her husband and anyone in his family had the right to beat her for any purpose, and now he was being encouraged to take a second wife so that he might have a chance to have a son. She decided that was too much and knew she had to do something.
"It was at that point that Saima joined a women’s solidarity group affiliated with a Pakistani microfinance organization called Kashf Foundation. Saima took out a $65 loan and used the money to buy beads and cloth, which she transformed into beautiful embroidery to sell in the markets of Lahore. She used the profit to buy more beads and cloth, and soon she had an embroidery business and was earning a solid income—the only one in her household to do so. Saima brought her eldest daughter back from the aunt and began paying off her husband’s debt."

"When merchants wanted more embroidery from Saima than she could produce, she paid neighbors to work for her. Eventually thirty families were working for Saima, and she put her husband to work as well—‘under my direction,’ she explained with a twinkle in her eye. Saima became the tycoon of the neighborhood, and she was able to pay off her husband’s entire debt, keep her daughters in school, renovate the house, connect running water to the house, and buy a television."
That was a nice success story. It may also be an example of a case where the subjugation of women is also a burden on men. Women are assumed to be incapable of accomplishing anything so they are never given an opportunity. Consequently, they do not accomplish anything. This of course supports the masculine narrative. But it also sets a pretty low bar for men who have a need to feel superior. A nagging wife who cannot be beaten into silence—or a wife who is allowed to compete economically—can be a great motivator.

As soon as Saima demonstrated that she could earn significant amounts of money the beatings stopped and her husband decided having daughters was not such a bad thing. Economics triumphs over culture again!
"Sponsor a girl or a woman through Plan International, Women for Women International, World Vision, or American Jewish World Service. We ourselves are sponsors through Plan, and we exchange letters and have visited our children in the Phillippines, Sudan, and the Dominican Republic. Sponsorship is also a way to teach your children that not all kids have iPods."The authors tell of Murvelene Clark a woman from Brooklyn who felt a need to reach out and help someone. She came across Women for Women International. She agreed to contribute $27 a month to support a woman from Rwanda. She was paired with Claudine Mukakarisa a twenty-seven-year-old genocide survivor from Rwanda. This is Claudine’s story as related by the authors.
"Extremist Hutus had targeted her family, which was Tutsi, and she was the only survivor. Claudine had been kidnapped at the age of thirteen, along with her older sister, and had been taken to a Hutu rape house. ‘They started sexually violating both of us,’ Claudine explained in a shy, pained monotone when we talked with her, ‘and then they started beating us’."

"Large number of militia members came to the house, patiently lining up to rape the women. This went on for days, and of course there was no medical attention. ‘We had started rotting in our reproductive organs, and maggots were coming out of our bodies,’ Claudine said. ‘Walking was almost impossible. So we crawled on our knees.’ When Kagame’s army defeated the genocidaires, the Hutu militia fled to Congo—but took Claudine and her sister along as well. Militia members killed her sister but finally let Claudine go."

"’I don’t know why I was released and my sister killed,’ she said shrugging. Probably it was because she was pregnant. Claudine was puzzled by her swelling belly, as she still had no idea about the facts of life. ‘I had thought I could not get pregnant, because I had been told that a girl becomes pregnant only if she has been kissed on the cheek. And I had never been kissed’."

"Still only thirteen years old and very pregnant, Claudine trekked around the country trying to find help. She gave birth by herself in a parking lot. Unable to see how she could ever feed the baby, and hating its unknown father for having raped her, Claudine abandoned it to die."

"’But my heart wouldn’t allow me to do that,’ she said. ‘So I went back and picked up my baby.’ Claudine begged for food in the streets, and she and the baby barely survived. ‘Many people would chase me away,’ she said, ‘because I was stinking’...."

"After several years of this, an uncle took Claudine in, but he demanded sex from her in exchange for shelter. When she became pregnant again he kicked her out. Over time, Claudine found that she could get jobs gardening or washing clothes, typically earning about a dollar for a day’s work. She managed to send her two children to school, but only barely: the fees were $7 per child per term, and so she and her children lived from day to day."
The $27 per month that Murvelene’s sponsorship provided is a significant amount—enough to change the recipient’s life. The Women for Women people work with Claudine over the year providing vocational training and helping her develop healthy money-managing habits. Claudine is learning beadwork so she can make embroidery to sell and provide herself an adequate income after the program is over. She also attends classes on health, literacy and human rights and is encouraged to be confident and assertive.

Murvelene and Claudine continue to exchange letters. Murvelene is happy that she has been able to help someone so in need of and deserving of help.

It is the authors’ fond hope that many others will get to experience Murvelene’s satisfaction.

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