"In the 19th Century, the central moral challenge was slavery. In the 20th Century, it was the battle against totalitarianism. We believe that in this century the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for gender equality around the world."
- Nicholas Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn in Half The Sky
Last year I started Off The Sidelines as a call to action to all women to get more involved in their communities and to make their voices heard on the issues they care about so that we can change the landscape of decisionmaking in this country. When I decided I wanted to do an Off The Sidelines book club, little did I know that I would soon be introduced to such an inspiring, yet at times devastating, book -- and one that so perfectly epitomizes the spirit of Off The Sidelines: Half The Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.
From sex trafficking to genital mutilation, from honor killing to forced prostitution, Half The Sky takes an unflinching look at so many of the ways that women and girls are oppressed around the world every day, through the stories of many of the women who have suffered and survived these crimes and injustices -- some of whom have escaped with their lives and have come out better on the other end, and some who have not.
One of the extraordinary women profiled in the book is Edna Adan, the former first lady of Somalia and former WHO official who herself has suffered injustice but emerged as a strong and passionate advocate for women's health. Not only did she speak out boldly against genital mutilation when it was unpopular to do so, but she put her financial security and her reputation on the line to build a maternity hospital to begin to reduce the maternal mortality rate in her home country of Somaliland. Thanks to her efforts, Edna Adan currently runs that hospital, accepts no salary and lives in an apartment inside the hospital so she can be constantly on call.
I'm so proud that today, for International Women's Day, Edna Adan has agreed to answer some of our book club members' questions, which we've posted at Off The Sidelines here. I was particularly moved by her response to a question asking what advice she would give anyone wanting to get off the sidelines and make a difference in the world:
If you feel strongly about a particular situation or practice, follow your heart. Often you will find others who have been looking for the same courage to speak out about the same subject. The more of you who collaborate together, the better and stronger you will be.
Not only is that exactly what Edna has done in her own life on the issues she cares about, but it's also precisely what Half The Sky calls on us all to do. Half The Sky is not content merely to document the injustice and oppression of women and girls around the world, rather it seeks to prescribe solutions and create a movement to really change the world, so that the women and girls who are oppressed today, will be empowered tomorrow.
So, what are some of the things you can do to help today? Here are some of the suggestions Half The Sky offers:
Join the CARE Action Network at www.can.care.org ...
We've also posted a listing of organizations that help women and girls all over the world at our website where you can donate and volunteer.
I also urge you to learn more about the movement at www.HalfTheSkyMovement.org, buy the book and I hope you'll join our book club. I'm excited that we've chosen this book to kick it off and we're particularly lucky to have Sheryl WuDunn joining us for the online discussion of the book next Thursday, March 15th at 7pm ET. I hope you'll join the conversation.
For my part, I will continue to be impacted by this extraordinary book well past next week. There are several legislative priorities that Nick and Sheryl lay out in the book that I intend to pursue, including funding girls' education so we can finally close the gender gap in the developing world; sponsoring a global effort to iodize salt in the poorest countries so we can raise the IQ levels of children growing up in poverty; and laying the groundwork for an international effort to drastically reduce maternal mortality rates.
I can't think of a better way to celebrate International Women's Day than to pick up Half The Sky, be inspired by the women profiled in the book and take action for all the women and girls around the world who aren't yet empowered to do so for themselves.
Follow Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand on Twitter: www.twitter.com/SenGillibrand