New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof once bought two women from a Cambodian brothel. One went on to start a family, the other returned to the brothel, but both may have inspired students to support women’s rights.
About 800 people filled Page Auditorium Thursday night to hear Kristof promote “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide,” his new book co-authored with his wife Sheryl WuDunn. Kristof shares one of his two Pulitzer prizes with WuDunn.
The event, co-sponsored by the Baldwin Scholars program the Women’s Institute for Secondary Education and Research and other campus organizations, was the first stop on Kristof’s book tour.
“In the 19th century, the central moral challenge was slavery. In the 20th century, it was totalitarianism. In this century, it is the oppression of women and girls throughout the world,” Kristof said.
Kristof estimated more than 100 million women are missing from the planet due to sex trafficking and unequal access to health care, education and food.
Projecting photos of the women whose stories he told, Kristof described the personal trials of women who were starved so their brothers could eat, who were sold into brothels and who were barred from school because of its cost. But he said there are ways to end this oppression.
“The greatest unexplored resource in developing countries isn’t gold, it isn’t oil, it’s the female half of the workforce,” Kristof said.
If efforts are made to educate women and help them gain economic leverage, Kristof said women are likely to use their skills and incomes to better their families’ and their villages’ situations.
Kristof reminded the audience that it will not be able to single-handedly fix every problem. And sophomore Catherine Joseph said that although she was moved by the stories, she knows the scope of the issues is daunting.
“It was a little disheartening that we only heard the success stories, because for every success story we don’t know how many don’t make it,” she said.
Still, Kristof’s message was one of hope, and he encouraged the audience to get involved with a cause they care about and to prioritize traveling outside their comfort zones.
Kristof places a lot of his hope in students. In part, his interest in working with students stems from their role as “a great moral voice in this country,” Kristof said in an interview, pointing to programs like WISER as effective ways students are getting involved.
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Free copies of the Pulitzer Prize-winning couple’s book were given to the first 200 attendees, and more were available for purchase.
Freshman Ashley Tsai waited almost an hour to have her copy of “Half the Sky” signed by Kristof after the lecture.
“What he’s done is really amazing,” Tsai said. “So I came out even though I had a lot of homework, I figured this was an opportunity I shouldn’t miss.”
But Kristof hopes students’ action does not stop at reading his book.
“I was really impressed by the enthusiasm of students and the number of students who talked about taking action,” Kristof said after the last fan went home. “I know when people get busy it’s easy to let that slide, but I hope people do get involved in those issues.”