Women’s rights activist Sheryl WuDunn visited Scripp College’s Garrison Theater Thursday, Sept. 16, to discuss the challenges facing women around the world and argue for solutions.
WuDunn was invited to speak as part of the College’s Alexa Fullerton Hampton Series, entitled Voice and Vision. The event was also sponsored by the Katharine Howard Miller Endowed Speakers Program.
WuDunn is a senior managing director at the investment bank Mid-Market Securities, and is president of TripleEdge, a social investing consulting firm. A graduate of Cornell University who holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and an MPA from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School, she has also worked extensively for The New York Times, primarily as a journalist and as an executive. For her work covering China, she became the first Asian-American journalist to win a Pulitzer Prize.
WuDunn is perhaps best known for her bestselling book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, co-authored with her husband Nicholas Kristoff. The book also concentrates on the challenges facing women worldwide.
In her speech, WuDunn shared her thoughts on the oppression of women worldwide, especially in Africa, India and China. She began her talk with a story about a young Chinese girl and her struggle for an education that her family could not afford—at least, not until a story about her ran in The New York Times. New Yorkers responded generously with donations, and the girl and her classmates were able to graduate from high school and even continue on to college. Since they were able to acquire higher-paying jobs and started making money, the girls sent money back to their families and their poor village was slowly transformed for the better.
Throughout her lecture, WuDunn accentuated her main point—that gender inequality and oppression of women is the biggest world challenge at this moment—with stories of individuals like the girl in China.
In another example, WuDunn described the plight of a 14-year-old girl in Ethiopia who got fistula after a complicated childbirth and was thrown into a hut and left for the hyenas, which she fended off with a stick before crawling 30 miles to a nearby missionary for treatment. She is now a nurse at a hospital, helping women with fistula.
According to WuDunn, the two most important aspects of female oppression to address are sex trafficking and maternal mortality. She emphasized the comparison of sex trafficking to modern-day slavery, and described her husband’s journalistic work with brothels in developing countries.
Regarding death caused by childbirth, she emphasized that there is some hope: the World Health Organization recently released a new study stating that one woman dies of childbirth only every 1.5 minutes, rather than one every minute as previously believed. WuDunn stated that no changes will really be made until there is political will to help these pregnant women, however.
According to WuDunn, the solutions to these problems are education and economic opportunity. She discussed the possibilities offered by microfinancing and stated that small loans can help change a women’s life and her community from poverty to success. WuDunn said that engaging this half of the population is akin to doubling these developing countries’ resources. By educating and providing jobs for women, she said, we will be one step closer to the solutions to world issues such as poverty and terrorism.
WuDunn stressed the positive possibilities for the future and the ways such help has already changed some women’s lives.
“The way she was speaking about oppression of women was still really hopeful,” said Julia Markham-Cameron SC ‘13. “I feel like even I could make a difference.”
After the lecture, WuDunn answered questions about topics such as foreign aid criticism, genital mutilation and how to get people motivated to help out. The talk was followed by a signing of Half the Sky in the lobby.