The Reality of Oppressed Women Around the World
An underdeveloped, underprivileged country cannot prosper and stabilize if half of its population is marginalized. A Chinese proverb states that women hold up half the sky, inspiring Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn to write the book, Half the Sky. Their intention is to open people’s eyes to less fortunate women’s oppression. Their argument incorporates both logic and emotion -through both statistics and horrifying anecdotal true stories. These two journalists show that women’s oppression with regard to sex trafficking, violence and lack of education is essentially the equivalent of slavery.
Over 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, why does something so similar to slavery still exist? Kristof and WuDunn explain that the situation can be altered, with the help of American government and personal donations. If America used 1/12 of 1% of the amount of money it spends on militaristic necessities, women around the world could benefit. Others argue that prostitution is not forced but a right to females. And those people argue that the United States has little impact on reducing human trafficking and increasing women’s rights.
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But that kind of mentality is incorrect, due to the fact that even the smallest aid will make an impact. Young females of Cambodia have to worry every time they leave their houses due to the disgusting acts of men and even women kidnappers. Kristof and WuDunn discuss one fifteen-year-old confident Cambodian girl, Momm, who was kidnapped, sent to a brothel, drugged, beaten, and forced to work every day- fifteen hours a day sleeping with male customers. The use of condoms was forbidden and she was never paid for her work.
Food was just as infrequent; just enough was given to Momm to keep her alive. Kristof found Momm when he was writing about the local brothels, and negotiated with the brothel owner to eventually sell her for $203. Despite the appreciation she had for Kristof, she was plagued with the fear that her parents would not accept her back into the family. She was forced into prostitution with horrible conditions, and yet she felt guilty about the situation (Kristof and WuDunn 38).
Kristof and WuDunn were disgusted; this girl had done nothing wrong but she felt as if she had. Fortunately, her family accepted her with feasts and happiness, but a little over a week later the journalists received bad news in an e-mail stating, “Srey Momm has voluntarily gone back to the Poipet brothel…” (Kristof and WuDunn 39). Like many other sex-trafficked girls, Momm had become addicted to methamphetamines. The brothel owners ensured that if the women became dependent on the drugs, they would turn around after running away.
The reader feels a sense of guilt and despair while engrossed in Half the Sky. This emotional pull aids in the authors’ portrayal of both an emotional and moral argument. Kristof and WuDunn accompanied this emotional anecdote with statistics. The two authors are correct in that it’s no secret that forced prostitution is basically slavery -it should be banned and it is absolutely beyond unnecessary for women in third world countries to participate in. Somehow, some way, the idea of prostitution isn’t a problem to others.
The idea of forced prostitution is necessary, a part of life, and is (wait for this one) actually beneficial. An article listing the fifteen reasons why prostitution is beneficial claims that “There are millions of sexworkers…who enjoy their profession and the largest risk is not bad clients, not STD’s, since most insist on safe sex, but the law enforcement stings wasting resources on morality crimes with no victims” (“Prostitution Is Beneficial”). What about the millions of girls who are forced to sell themselves or they will be killed?
Kristof, in Half the Sky reminds readers that, “far more women and girls are shipped into brothels each year in the early twenty-first century than African slaves were shipped into slave plantations each year in the eighteenth or nineteenth century” (11). It’s a perfect analogy, because the conditions for these women are almost identical to those of slaves hundreds of years ago. Still, there are people who argue that the situations are not that horrific.
People like Feminist Klinger argue that women have the right to do what they want with their body; that “any variety of sexual exploration…can’t be considered evil, yet that is exactly how prostitution is regarded. If a woman or man chooses to exchange sex for money and does it in a way that causes no harm to either party, then they should be free to do so”. Klinger is slightly hypocritical, defending women’s rights while allowing women to give up their own bodies for economic purposes. These poor women have potential.
If they have some sort of aid, some sort of education, some sort of goal, they can make it on their own. Prostitution is not the answer. Forced prostitution will never be the answer. Kristof and WuDunn discuss the importance of education, and of the intervention of the United States to help women in underprivileged countries achieve all that they want to achieve. One example the two authors mention in Half the Sky is of Angeline Mugwendere. Her parents were poor farmers in Zimbabwe, and she went to primary school barefoot in a torn dress, while her classmates mocked her.
She was too poor to pay school fees or afford school supplies, but even with the teasing and humiliations, Angeline pleaded to stay in school. At the end of primary school, she took the nationwide sixth-grade exams and had the best score not only in her school, but in her district — one of the highest in the nation. However, Angeline had to drop out of school due to economic situations. Fortunately a reader of WuDunn’s article felt sympathetic and wired the school $10,000 to pay for her tuition.
The money gave Angeline and her peers the ability to continue their education. (Kristof and WuDunn 168). The generosity of Americans (or anyone with a big heart and a bit of wealth) is worth more than people can imagine. And the little bit of extra money, and extra education could wind up sending a woman from a third world country to medical school in the United States, and then creating a doctor who could help deliver babies and check maternal health in small impoverished Zimbabwe towns.
The World Health Organization estimates that 536,000 women die in pregnancy or childbirth each year (Kristof and WuDunn 180) and people can help bring this number down significantly. As Kristof and WuDunn have pointed out; a little bit goes a long way. Some humanists believe that the United States should worry about itself, and disregard the societal actions of other countries. So all those struggling, sickening, sorry situations of women in Cambodia, Zimbabwe, Indonesia or Malaysia- what happens with them?
Are those women supposed to fend for themselves, even though that’s physically impossible? The United States government has designed a treaty that encourages “global prostitution to the detriment of needy women” (Crouse) It states that countries that have ratified the treaty will take all appropriate measures to suppress all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of prostitution in women. But Crouse argues that the treaty will actually increase the number of prostitute, but she fails to mention that the treaty will bring realizations of horrid living conditions to the rest of the world.
The treaty named, CEDAW will provide women with an equal chance to succeed even when they live in oppressed countries, but these people like Crouse believe that United States’ intervention will cause more stress than aid. They say it will “unravel American families and force women to model themselves after global feminists’ ideal image. ” (Crouse) But the truth of the matter is that the United States needs to take some sort of action. The United States is sitting quietly and allowing sex-trafficking to occur. It is also very important to note that while ‘source’ countries are blamed, there is no suggested action against the ‘receiving’ and ‘user’ countries, such as the United States itself. ” (“Global Sanctions Do Not Reduce Human Trafficking. “) People may believe that years will pass and human trafficking will never stop. But Kristof and WuDunn provide statistical evidence, and multiple stories proving that a bit of aid from governments or personal donations will go a long way.
There are women all around the world, in many poverty-stricken nations, who don’t experiences such fortunate conditions as the wealthy women in the rest of world. Money should not be the factor that causes women to sell their bodies, acquire deadly sexually transmitted diseases, stay uneducated and experience unwanted pregnancies. But there are ways to alter this situation. There are ways to help women become the best that they can be. There are ways to verify that women will continue to hold up half the sky.