Thursday, September 9, 2010

A book that changed me

A post for the writing workshop at Sleep is for the weak.

Just before Josie, Sian and Eva announced that they were going to Bangladesh in order to share with their readers the plight of children there I had been reading "Half the Sky". A book by Sheryl Wu Dunn and her NY Times journalist husband, Nick Kristoff, it shows us that most women in the world face huge injustice and inequality. It challenges us to act to liberate women everywhere,  and suggests that only when women are truly free can the world progress to be a humane place for everyone.

It is not an easy book to read, but it is a very important one. As a feminist in a modern country I get into debates about whether women should work full time, about the right to give birth without unnecessary interventions, about maternity benefits or  the need for professional mentorship. This book made me realize that my problems are luxuries. I wasn't abandoned at birth because I was female. I don't have to worry that my husband will sell my daughter to a rich old man, my earnings belong to me and not to the senior male in family. I was not horrifically injured when I gave birth to my children. I can choose the size of my family, be it large or small, and I don't have a 1 in 7 chance of dying in childbirth like a woman in Afghanistan, Guinea, Sierra Leone or Somalia. My voice counts. This is not true for most women in the world. The meaning of feminism has changed for me since reading this book. It means trying in any small way I can to give every woman and girl the chance to determine her own destiny.

I decided to join a microloan organization that was mentioned in the book, Kiva. This is a way to lend money directly to individuals. Most of the applicants are women, who need small amounts of capital to start or support a business. What better way to help another woman become self sufficient than by using some of the money I am so fortunate to earn thanks to the excellent education and great opportunities I have had to support a woman owned business in a poorer part of the world?

I've always been a fan of Nick Kristoff's work. My newspaper often goes straight from the blue plastic back into the recycling bin, busy lives leave little reading time, but I always read his column. He goes to places no one else does and brings back stories that break your heart. He challenges his reader to relate to people whose lives are unimaginably different to our own, and he succeeds. He expouses getting out of your comfort zone, going to see the world and to help people. I feel just a little bit connected to him now too. You see I follow him on twitter, and I suddenly thought "Nick Kristoff would support Blogadesh" and I asked him to retweet a blogadesh link.  He did! (Thanks Mr Kristoff.)

In those 140 characters, I felt the power of social media. I don't have many followers, but he has 953,292. Maybe the internet can change the world for the better.