New York Times Magazine, August 23, 2009
The Women's Campaign
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF and SHERYL
IN THE 19TH CENTURY, the paramount moral challenge was slavery.
In the 20th century, it was totalitarianism. In this century, it is the brutality
inflicted on so many women and girls around the globe: sex trafficking, acid attacks,
bride burnings and mass rape.
Yet if the injustices that women in poor
countries suffer are of paramount importance, in an economic and geopolitical
sense the opportunity they represent is even greater. ''Women hold up half the
sky,'' in the words of a Chinese saying, yet that's mostly an aspiration: in a
large slice of the world, girls are uneducated and women marginalized, and it's
not an accident that those same countries are disproportionately mired in poverty
and riven by fundamentalism and chaos. There's a growing recognition among everyone
from the World Bank to the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff to aid organizations
like CARE that focusing on women and girls is the most effective way to fight
global poverty and extremism. That's why foreign aid is increasingly directed
to women. The world is awakening to a powerful truth: Women and girls aren't the
problem; they're the solution.
One place to observe this alchemy of gender
is in the muddy back alleys of Pakistan. In a slum outside the grand old city
of Lahore, a woman named Saima Muhammad used to dissolve into tears every evening.
A round-faced woman with thick black hair tucked into a head scarf, Saima had
barely a rupee, and her deadbeat husband was unemployed and not particularly employable.
He was frustrated and angry, and he coped by beating Saima each afternoon. Their
house was falling apart, and Saima had to send her young daughter to live with
an aunt, because there wasn't enough food to go around.
made fun of me, saying, 'You can't even feed your children,' '' recalled Saima
when Nick met her two years ago on a trip to Pakistan. ''My husband beat me up.
My brother-in-law beat me up. I had an awful life.'' Saima's husband accumulated
a debt of more than $3,000, and it seemed that these loans would hang over the
family for generations. Then when Saima's second child was born and turned out
to be a girl as well, her mother-in-law, a harsh, blunt woman named Sharifa Bibi,
raised the stakes.
''She's not going to have a son,'' Sharifa told Saima's
husband, in front of her. ''So you should marry again. Take a second wife.'' Saima
was shattered and ran off sobbing. Another wife would leave even less money to
feed and educate the children. And Saima herself would be marginalized in the
household, cast off like an old sock. For days Saima walked around in a daze,
her eyes red; the slightest incident would send her collapsing into hysterical
It was at that point that Saima signed up with the Kashf Foundation,
a Pakistani microfinance organization that lends tiny amounts of money to poor
women to start businesses. Kashf is typical of microfinance institutions, in that
it lends almost exclusively to women, in groups of 25. The women guarantee one
another's debts and meet every two weeks to make payments and discuss a social
issue, like family planning or schooling for girls. A Pakistani woman is often
forbidden to leave the house without her husband's permission, but husbands tolerate
these meetings because the women return with cash and investment ideas.
took out a $65 loan and used the money to buy beads and cloth, which she transformed
into beautiful embroidery that she then sold to merchants 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 took her elder daughter back from the aunt and began paying off her
When merchants requested more embroidery than Saima could
produce, she paid neighbors to assist her. Eventually 30 families were working
for her, 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 and buy a television.
comes to me to borrow money, the same ones who used to criticize me,'' Saima said,
beaming in satisfaction. ''And the children of those who used to criticize me
now come to my house to watch TV.''
Today, Saima is a bit plump and displays
a gold nose ring as well as several other rings and bracelets on each wrist. She
exudes self-confidence as she offers a grand tour of her home and work area, ostentatiously
showing off the television and the new plumbing. She doesn't even pretend to be
subordinate to her husband. He spends his days mostly loafing around, occasionally
helping with the work but always having to accept orders from his wife. He has
become more impressed with females in general: Saima had a third child, also a
girl, but now that's not a problem. ''Girls are just as good as boys,'' he explained.
Saima's new prosperity has transformed the family's educational prospects.
She is planning to send all three of her daughters through high school and maybe
to college as well. She brings in tutors to improve their schoolwork, and her
oldest child, Javaria, is ranked first in her class. We asked Javaria what she
wanted to be when she grew up, thinking she might aspire to be a doctor or lawyer.
Javaria cocked her head. ''I'd like to do embroidery,'' she said.
her husband, Saima said, ''We have a good relationship now.'' She explained, ''We
don't fight, and he treats me well.'' And what about finding another wife who
might bear him a son? Saima chuckled at the question: ''Now nobody says anything
about that.'' Sharifa Bibi, the mother-in-law, looked shocked when we asked whether
she wanted her son to take a second wife to bear a son. ''No, no,'' she said.
''Saima is bringing so much to this house. . . . She puts a roof over our heads
and food on the table.''
Sharifa even allows that Saima is now largely
exempt from beatings by her husband. ''A woman should know her limits, and if
not, then it's her husband's right to beat her,'' Sharifa said. ''But if a woman
earns more than her husband, it's difficult for him to discipline her.''
SHOULD we make of stories like Saima's? Traditionally, the status of women
was seen as a ''soft'' issue -- worthy but marginal. We initially reflected that
view ourselves in our work as journalists. We preferred to focus instead on the
''serious'' international issues, like trade disputes or arms proliferation. Our
awakening came in China.
After we married in 1988, we moved to Beijing
to be correspondents for The New York Times. Seven months later we found ourselves
standing on the edge of Tiananmen Square watching troops fire their automatic
weapons at prodemocracy protesters. The massacre claimed between 400 and 800 lives
and transfixed the world; wrenching images of the killings appeared constantly
on the front page and on television screens.
Yet the following year we
came across an obscure but meticulous demographic study that outlined a human
rights violation that had claimed tens of thousands more lives. This study found
that 39,000 baby girls died annually in China because parents didn't give them
the same medical care and attention that boys received -- and that was just in
the first year of life. A result is that as many infant girls died unnecessarily
every week in China as protesters died at Tiananmen Square. Those Chinese girls
never received a column inch of news coverage, and we began to wonder if our journalistic
priorities were skewed.
A similar pattern emerged in other countries. In
India, a ''bride burning'' takes place approximately once every two hours, to
punish a woman for an inadequate dowry or to eliminate her so a man can remarry
-- but these rarely constitute news. When a prominent dissident was arrested in
China, we would write a front-page article; when 100,000 girls were kidnapped
and trafficked into brothels, we didn't even consider it news.
Sen, the ebullient Nobel Prize-winning economist, developed a gauge of gender
inequality that is a striking reminder of the stakes involved. ''More than 100
million women are missing,'' Sen wrote in a classic essay in 1990 in The New York
Review of Books, spurring a new field of research. Sen noted that in normal circumstances,
women live longer than men, and so there are more females than males in much of
the world. Yet in places where girls have a deeply unequal status, they vanish.
China has 107 males for every 100 females in its overall population (and an even
greater disproportion among newborns), and India has 108. The implication of the
sex ratios, Sen later found, is that about 107 million females are missing from
the globe today. Follow-up studies have calculated the number slightly differently,
deriving alternative figures for ''missing women'' of between 60 million and 107
Girls vanish partly because they don't get the same health care
and food as boys. In India, for example, girls are less likely to be vaccinated
than boys and are taken to the hospital only when they are sicker. A result is
that girls in India from 1 to 5 years of age are 50 percent more likely to die
than boys their age. In addition, ultrasound machines have allowed a pregnant
woman to find out the sex of her fetus -- and then get an abortion if it is female.
The global statistics on the abuse of girls are numbing. It appears that
more girls and women are now missing from the planet, precisely because they are
female, than men were killed on the battlefield in all the wars of the 20th century.
The number of victims of this routine ''gendercide'' far exceeds the number of
people who were slaughtered in all the genocides of the 20th century.
those women who live, mistreatment is sometimes shockingly brutal. If you're reading
this article, the phrase ''gender discrimination'' might conjure thoughts of unequal
pay, underfinanced sports teams or unwanted touching from a boss. In the developing
world, meanwhile, millions of women and girls are actually enslaved. While a precise
number is hard to pin down, the International Labor Organization, a U.N. agency,
estimates that at any one time there are 12.3 million people engaged in forced
labor of all kinds, including sexual servitude. In Asia alone about one million
children working in the sex trade are held in conditions indistinguishable from
slavery, according to a U.N. report. Girls and women are locked in brothels and
beaten if they resist, fed just enough to be kept alive and often sedated with
drugs -- to pacify them and often to cultivate addiction. India probably has more
modern slaves than any other country.
Another huge burden for women in
poor countries is maternal mortality, with one woman dying in childbirth around
the world every minute. In the West African country Niger, a woman stands a one-in-seven
chance of dying in childbirth at some point in her life. (These statistics are
all somewhat dubious, because maternal mortality isn't considered significant
enough to require good data collection.) For all of India's shiny new high-rises,
a woman there still has a 1-in-70 lifetime chance of dying in childbirth. In contrast,
the lifetime risk in the United States is 1 in 4,800; in Ireland, it is 1 in 47,600.
The reason for the gap is not that we don't know how to save lives of women in
poor countries. It's simply that poor, uneducated women in Africa and Asia have
never been a priority either in their own countries or to donor nations.
BE, A BEAUTIFUL teenage girl in the Indian city of Hyderabad, has chocolate
skin, black hair and gleaming white teeth -- and a lovely smile, which made her
all the more marketable.
Money was tight in her family, so when she was
about 14 she arranged to take a job as a maid in the capital, New Delhi. Instead,
she was locked up in a brothel, beaten with a cricket bat, gang-raped and told
that she would have to cater to customers. Three days after she arrived, Abbas
and all 70 girls in the brothel were made to gather round and watch as the pimps
made an example of one teenage girl who had fought customers. The troublesome
girl was stripped naked, hogtied, humiliated and mocked, beaten savagely and then
stabbed in the stomach until she bled to death in front of Abbas and the others.
Abbas was never paid for her work. Any sign of dissatisfaction led to a
beating or worse; two more times, she watched girls murdered by the brothel managers
for resisting. Eventually Abbas was freed by police and taken back to Hyderabad.
She found a home in a shelter run by Prajwala, an organization that takes in girls
rescued from brothels and teaches them new skills. Abbas is acquiring an education
and has learned to be a bookbinder; she also counsels other girls about how to
avoid being trafficked. As a skilled bookbinder, Abbas is able to earn a decent
living, and she is now helping to put her younger sisters through school as well.
With an education, they will be far less vulnerable to being trafficked. Abbas
has moved from being a slave to being a producer, contributing to India's economic
development and helping raise her family.
Perhaps the lesson presented
by both Abbas and Saima is the same: In many poor countries, the greatest unexploited
resource isn't oil fields or veins of gold; it is the women and girls who aren't
educated and never become a major presence in the formal economy. With education
and with help starting businesses, impoverished women can earn money and support
their countries as well as their families. They represent perhaps the best hope
for fighting global poverty.
In East Asia, as we saw in our years of reporting
there, women have already benefited from deep social changes. In countries like
South Korea and Malaysia, China and Thailand, rural girls who previously contributed
negligibly to the economy have gone to school and received educations, giving
them the autonomy to move to the city to hold factory jobs. This hugely increased
the formal labor force; when the women then delayed childbearing, there was a
demographic dividend to the country as well. In the 1990s, by our estimations,
some 80 percent of the employees on the assembly lines in coastal China were female,
and the proportion across the manufacturing belt of East Asia was at least 70
The hours were long and the conditions wretched, just as in the
sweatshops of the Industrial Revolution in the West. But peasant women were making
money, sending it back home and sometimes becoming the breadwinners in their families.
They gained new skills that elevated their status. Westerners encounter sweatshops
and see exploitation, and indeed, many of these plants are just as bad as critics
say. But it's sometimes said in poor countries that the only thing worse than
being exploited in a sweatshop is not being exploited in a sweatshop. Low-wage
manufacturing jobs disproportionately benefited women in countries like China
because these were jobs for which brute physical force was not necessary and women's
nimbleness gave them an advantage over men -- which was not the case with agricultural
labor or construction or other jobs typically available in poor countries. Strange
as it may seem, sweatshops in Asia had the effect of empowering women. One hundred
years ago, many women in China were still having their feet bound. Today, while
discrimination and inequality and harassment persist, the culture has been transformed.
In the major cities, we've found that Chinese men often do more domestic chores
than American men typically do. And urban parents are often not only happy with
an only daughter; they may even prefer one, under the belief that daughters are
better than sons at looking after aging parents.
WHY DO MICROFINANCE
organizations usually focus their assistance on women? And why does everyone benefit
when women enter the work force and bring home regular pay checks? One reason
involves the dirty little secret of global poverty: some of the most wretched
suffering is caused not just by low incomes but also by unwise spending by the
poor -- especially by men. Surprisingly frequently, we've come across a mother
mourning a child who has just died of malaria for want of a $5 mosquito bed net;
the mother says that the family couldn't afford a bed net and she means it, but
then we find the father at a nearby bar. He goes three evenings a week to the
bar, spending $5 each week.
Our interviews and perusal of the data available
suggest that the poorest families in the world spend approximately 10 times as
much (20 percent of their incomes on average) on a combination of alcohol, prostitution,
candy, sugary drinks and lavish feasts as they do on educating their children
(2 percent). If poor families spent only as much on educating their children as
they do on beer and prostitutes, there would be a breakthrough in the prospects
of poor countries. Girls, since they are the ones kept home from school now, would
be the biggest beneficiaries. Moreover, one way to reallocate family expenditures
in this way is to put more money in the hands of women. A series of studies has
found that when women hold assets or gain incomes, family money is more likely
to be spent on nutrition, medicine and housing, and consequently children are
In Ivory Coast, one research project examined the different
crops that men and women grow for their private kitties: men grow coffee, cocoa
and pineapple, and women grow plantains, bananas, coconuts and vegetables. Some
years the ''men's crops'' have good harvests and the men are flush with cash,
and other years it is the women who prosper. Money is to some extent shared. But
even so, the economist Esther Duflo of M.I.T. found that when the men's crops
flourish, the household spends more money on alcohol and tobacco. When the women
have a good crop, the households spend more money on food. ''When women command
greater power, child health and nutrition improves,'' Duflo says.
research has concrete implications: for example, donor countries should nudge
poor countries to adjust their laws so that when a man dies, his property is passed
on to his widow rather than to his brothers. Governments should make it easy for
women to hold property and bank accounts -- 1 percent of the world's landowners
are women -- and they should make it much easier for microfinance institutions
to start banks so that women can save money.
OF COURSE, IT'S FAIR
to ask: empowering women is well and good, but can one do this effectively? Does
foreign aid really work? William Easterly, an economist at New York University,
has argued powerfully that shoveling money at poor countries accomplishes little.
Some Africans, including Dambisa Moyo, author of ''Dead Aid,'' have said the same
thing. The critics note that there has been no correlation between amounts of
aid going to countries and their economic growth rates.
Our take is that,
frankly, there is something to these criticisms. Helping people is far harder
than it looks. Aid experiments often go awry, or small successes turn out to be
difficult to replicate or scale up. Yet we've also seen, anecdotally and in the
statistics, evidence that some kinds of aid have been enormously effective. The
delivery of vaccinations and other kinds of health care has reduced the number
of children who die every year before they reach the age of 5 to less than 10
million today from 20 million in 1960.
In general, aid appears to work
best when it is focused on health, education and microfinance (although microfinance
has been somewhat less successful in Africa than in Asia). And in each case, crucially,
aid has often been most effective when aimed at women and girls; when policy wonks
do the math, they often find that these investments have a net economic return.
Only a small proportion of aid specifically targets women or girls, but increasingly
donors are recognizing that that is where they often get the most bang for the
In the early 1990s, the United Nations and the World Bank began to
proclaim the potential resource that women and girls represent. ''Investment in
girls' education may well be the highest-return investment available in the developing
world,'' Larry Summers wrote when he was chief economist of the World Bank. Private
aid groups and foundations shifted gears as well. ''Women are the key to ending
hunger in Africa,'' declared the Hunger Project. The Center for Global Development
issued a major report explaining ''why and how to put girls at the center of development.''
CARE took women and girls as the centerpiece of its anti-poverty efforts. ''Gender
inequality hurts economic growth,'' Goldman Sachs concluded in a 2008 research
report that emphasized how much developing countries could improve their economic
performance by educating girls.
Bill Gates recalls once being invited to
speak in Saudi Arabia and finding himself facing a segregated audience. Four-fifths
of the listeners were men, on the left. The remaining one-fifth were women, all
covered in black cloaks and veils, on the right. A partition separated the two
groups. Toward the end, in the question-and-answer session, a member of the audience
noted that Saudi Arabia aimed to be one of the Top 10 countries in the world in
technology by 2010 and asked if that was realistic. ''Well, if you're not fully
utilizing half the talent in the country,'' Gates said, ''you're not going to
get too close to the Top 10.'' The small group on the right erupted in wild cheering.
Policy makers have gotten the message as well. President Obama has appointed
a new White House Council on Women and Girls. Perhaps he was indoctrinated by
his mother, who was one of the early adopters of microloans to women when she
worked to fight poverty in Indonesia. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton
is a member of the White House Council, and she has also selected a talented activist,
Melanne Verveer, to direct a new State Department Office of Global Women's Issues.
On Capitol Hill, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has put Senator Barbara
Boxer in charge of a new subcommittee that deals with women's issues.
another reason to educate and empower women is that greater female involvement
in society and the economy appears to undermine extremism and terrorism. It has
long been known that a risk factor for turbulence and violence is the share of
a country's population made up of young people. Now it is emerging that male domination
of society is also a risk factor; the reasons aren't fully understood, but it
may be that when women are marginalized the nation takes on the testosterone-laden
culture of a military camp or a high-school boys' locker room. That's in part
why the Joint Chiefs of Staff and international security specialists are puzzling
over how to increase girls' education in countries like Afghanistan -- and why
generals have gotten briefings from Greg Mortenson, who wrote about building girls'
schools in his best seller, ''Three Cups of Tea.'' Indeed, some scholars say they
believe the reason Muslim countries have been disproportionately afflicted by
terrorism is not Islamic teachings about infidels or violence but rather the low
levels of female education and participation in the labor force.
WHAT WOULD an agenda for fighting poverty through helping women look like?
You might begin with the education of girls -- which doesn't just mean building
schools. There are other innovative means at our disposal. A study in Kenya by
Michael Kremer, a Harvard economist, examined six different approaches to improving
educational performance, from providing free textbooks to child-sponsorship programs.
The approach that raised student test scores the most was to offer girls who had
scored in the top 15 percent of their class on sixth-grade tests a $19 scholarship
for seventh and eighth grade (and the glory of recognition at an assembly). Boys
also performed better, apparently because they were pushed by the girls or didn't
want to endure the embarrassment of being left behind.
Another Kenyan study
found that giving girls a new $6 school uniform every 18 months significantly
reduced dropout rates and pregnancy rates. Likewise, there's growing evidence
that a cheap way to help keep high-school girls in school is to help them manage
menstruation. For fear of embarrassing leaks and stains, girls sometimes stay
home during their periods, and the absenteeism puts them behind and eventually
leads them to drop out. Aid workers are experimenting with giving African teenage
girls sanitary pads, along with access to a toilet where they can change them.
The Campaign for Female Education, an organization devoted to getting more girls
into school in Africa, helps girls with their periods, and a new group, Sustainable
Health Enterprises, is trying to do the same.
And so, if President Obama
wanted to adopt a foreign-aid policy that built on insights into the role of women
in development, he would do well to start with education. We would suggest a $10
billion effort over five years to educate girls around the world. This initiative
would focus on Africa but would also support -- and prod -- Asian countries like
Afghanistan and Pakistan to do better. This plan would also double as population
policy, for it would significantly reduce birthrates -- and thus help poor countries
overcome the demographic obstacles to economic growth.
But President Obama
might consider two different proposals as well. We would recommend that the United
States sponsor a global drive to eliminate iodine deficiency around the globe,
by helping countries iodize salt.. About a third of households in the developing
world do not get enough iodine, and a result is often an impairment in brain formation
in the fetal stages. For reasons that are unclear, this particularly affects female
fetuses and typically costs children 10 to 15 I.Q. points. Research by Erica Field
of Harvard found that daughters of women given iodine performed markedly better
in school. Other research suggests that salt iodization would yield benefits worth
nine times the cost.
We would also recommend that the United States announce
a 12-year, $1.6 billion program to eradicate obstetric fistula, a childbirth injury
that is one of the worst scourges of women in the developing world. An obstetric
fistula, which is a hole created inside the body by a difficult childbirth, leaves
a woman incontinent, smelly, often crippled and shunned by her village -- yet
it can be repaired for a few hundred dollars. Dr. Lewis Wall, president of the
Worldwide Fistula Fund, and Michael Horowitz, a conservative agitator on humanitarian
issues, have drafted the 12-year plan -- and it's eminently practical and built
on proven methods. Evidence that fistulas can be prevented or repaired comes from
impoverished Somaliland, a northern enclave of Somalia, where an extraordinary
nurse-midwife named Edna Adan has built her own maternity hospital to save the
lives of the women around her. A former first lady of Somalia and World Health
Organization official, Adan used her savings to build the hospital, which is supported
by a group of admirers in the U.S. who call themselves Friends of Edna Maternity
For all the legitimate concerns about how well humanitarian aid
is spent, investments in education, iodizing salt and maternal health all have
a proven record of success. And the sums are modest: all three components of our
plan together amount to about what the U.S. has provided Pakistan since 9/11 --
a sum that accomplished virtually nothing worthwhile either for Pakistanis or
ONE OF THE MANY aid groups that for pragmatic reasons
has increasingly focused on women is Heifer International, a charitable organization
based in Arkansas that has been around for decades. The organization gives cows,
goats and chickens to farmers in poor countries. On assuming the presidency of
Heifer in 1992, the activist Jo Luck traveled to Africa, where one day she found
herself sitting on the ground with a group of young women in a Zimbabwean village.
One of them was Tererai Trent.
Tererai is a long-faced woman with high
cheekbones and a medium brown complexion; she has a high forehead and tight cornrows.
Like many women around the world, she doesn't know when she was born and has no
documentation of her birth. As a child, Tererai didn't get much formal education,
partly because she was a girl and was expected to do household chores. She herded
cattle and looked after her younger siblings. Her father would say, Let's send
our sons to school, because they will be the breadwinners. Tererai's brother,
Tinashe, was forced to go to school, where he was an indifferent student. Tererai
pleaded to be allowed to attend but wasn't permitted to do so. Tinashe brought
his books home each afternoon, and Tererai pored over them and taught herself
to read and write. Soon she was doing her brother's homework every evening.
teacher grew puzzled, for Tinashe was a poor student in class but always handed
in exemplary homework. Finally, the teacher noticed that the handwriting was different
for homework and for class assignments and whipped Tinashe until he confessed
the truth. Then the teacher went to the father, told him that Tererai was a prodigy
and begged that she be allowed to attend school. After much argument, the father
allowed Tererai to attend school for a couple of terms, but then married her off
at about age 11.
Tererai's husband barred her from attending school, resented
her literacy and beat her whenever she tried to practice her reading by looking
at a scrap of old newspaper. Indeed, he beat her for plenty more as well. She
hated her marriage but had no way out. ''If you're a woman and you are not educated,
what else?'' she asks.
Yet when Jo Luck came and talked to Tererai and
other young women in her village, Luck kept insisting that things did not have
to be this way. She kept saying that they could achieve their goals, repeatedly
using the word ''achievable.'' The women caught the repetition and asked the interpreter
to explain in detail what ''achievable'' meant. That gave Luck a chance to push
forward. ''What are your hopes?'' she asked the women, through the interpreter.
Tererai and the others were puzzled by the question, because they didn't really
have any hopes. But Luck pushed them to think about their dreams, and reluctantly,
they began to think about what they wanted.
Tererai timidly voiced hope
of getting an education. Luck pounced and told her that she could do it, that
she should write down her goals and methodically pursue them. After Luck and her
entourage disappeared, Tererai began to study on her own, in hiding from her husband,
while raising her five children. Painstakingly, with the help of friends, she
wrote down her goals on a piece of paper: ''One day I will go to the United States
of America,'' she began, for Goal 1. She added that she would earn a college degree,
a master's degree and a Ph.D. -- all exquisitely absurd dreams for a married cattle
herder in Zimbabwe who had less than one year's formal education. But Tererai
took the piece of paper and folded it inside three layers ofplastic to protect
it, and then placed it in an old can. She buried the can under a rock where she
Then Tererai took correspondence classes and began saving
money. Her self-confidence grew as she did brilliantly in her studies, and she
became a community organizer for Heifer. She stunned everyone with superb schoolwork,
and the Heifer aid workers encouraged her to think that she could study in America.
One day in 1998, she received notice that she had been admitted to Oklahoma State
Some of the neighbors thought that a woman should focus on
educating her children, not herself. ''I can't talk about my children's education
when I'm not educated myself,'' Tererai responded. ''If I educate myself, then
I can educate my children.'' So she climbed into an airplane and flew to America.
At Oklahoma State, Tererai took every credit she could and worked nights
to make money. She earned her undergraduate degree, brought her five children
to America and started her master's, then returned to her village. She dug up
the tin can under the rock and took out the paper on which she had scribbled her
goals. She put check marks beside the goals she had fulfilled and buried the tin
In Arkansas, she took a job working for Heifer -- while simultaneously
earning a master's degree part time. When she had her M.A., Tererai again returned
to her village. After embracing her mother and sister, she dug up her tin can
and checked off her next goal. Now she is working on her Ph.D. at Western Michigan
Tererai has completed her course work and is completing a dissertation
about AIDS programs among the poor in Africa. She will become a productive economic
asset for Africa and a significant figure in the battle against AIDS. And when
she has her doctorate, Tererai will go back to her village and, after hugging
her loved ones, go out to the field and dig up her can again.
many metaphors for the role of foreign assistance. For our part, we like to think
of aid as a kind of lubricant, a few drops of oil in the crankcase of the developing
world, so that gears move freely again on their own. That is what the assistance
to Tererai amounted to: a bit of help where and when it counts most, which often
means focusing on women like her. And now Tererai is gliding along freely on her
own -- truly able to hold up half the sky.
In Burundi, which is one of
the poorest countries in the world, Goretti Nyabenda used to be largely a prisoner
in her hut. In keeping with tradition in the region where she lived, she could
not leave without the permission of her husband, Bernard. Her interactions with
Bernard consisted in good part of being beaten by him. ''I was wretched,'' she
remembers. Then Goretti joined an empowerment program run by CARE, taking out
a $2 microloan to buy fertilizer. The result was an excellent crop of potatoes
worth $7.50 -- and Goretti began to build a small business as a farmer, goat breeder
and banana-beer brewer. When Bernard fell sick with malaria, it was Goretti who
was able to pay the bill. Today Goretti is no longer beaten, and she comes and
goes freely. Her children, including her second daughter, Ancilla, shown on the
right, have been able to afford school with Goretti's earnings. (MM32)
Be was held captive in a Delhi brothel. After she was freed, she returned to her
home city of Hyderabad, became a bookbinder and now puts her sisters through school.(pg.
Claudine Mukakarisa spent much of the genocide in Rwanda imprisoned
in a rape house. She escaped, and afterward she found that she was the only on
left alive in her family--she was pregnant, homeless and 13 years old. Claudine
gave birth in a parking lot, and hating the child because its father was a rapist,
she initially left him to die. But then she returned to the parking lot, picked
up her son and nursed him. She survived by begging and washing laundry eventually,
another child followed -- the father was a man who raped her after offering her
shelter. Claudine, pictured above with her two children, received help from an
aid organization called Women for Women International, which paired her with Murvelene
Clarke, a bank employee from Brooklyn. Clarke began donating $27 a month, and
that money (together with training in making beadwork, which can be sold) helped
Claudine educate her children.
this page to a friend!