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Robyn N. Cohen


The Value of You

Posted: 12/31/10 04:15 PM ET

I think everyone, both men and women, struggle with understanding and appreciating the value of themselves when it comes to their careers or their relationships. However, I feel women struggle with this at a much deeper level.

I remember at the beginning of 2010, The Economist had on the cover a picture of Rosie the Riveter. It was symbolizing the fact that, for the first time ever, women had surpassed the 50% threshold becoming the majority of the workforce in the US. Was that something to celebrate? Absolutely. However, it really is only significant with regards to numbers and percentages, but not for equality in terms of salary or numerous other issues such as maternity leave, women in top leadership positions, and the like. I feel what we need to work on, not just on a societal level, but on an individual level as well, is understanding, acknowledging, appreciating, and educating women about the value of themselves in every society and community worldwide.

In September of this year, there was a talk given by Nicholas D. Kristof, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The New Times, at Harvard Medical School, which was written about in the Harvard Gazette. Coincidentally, the talk was about 'The Value of Women' and Kristof said that "If slavery and totalitarianism were the great moral issues of the 19th and 20th centuries, then the worldwide oppression of women and girls will be the defining issue of the 21st." I think all of us would have to agree. He continues by saying "Ending that oppression is an issue not only of justice but also of economic progress. Educating girls and empowering women to enter the labor market or run businesses -- even on a small scale -- makes a huge difference in a community's economy. Empowered women may help lower poverty rates and diminish support for terrorism." I think this statement is key, because the impact that women can have in our society is so important to understand and to foster.

Kristof and his wife, Sheryl Wudunn, wrote a book titled ""Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide." The book was published in September 2009, however the first piece written for the book came in 1990. Kristof wrote about a girl in rural China that was going to drop out of school, because her parents could not afford the mere $13 to keep her in school. One thing led to another and the readers of Kristof's column decided to donate money to help keep this girl in school. Ironically, the bank where the donations were being held made a mistake and added a couple of zeros to the $100 donation. With a little coaxing, the bank agreed to pay $10,000 and the money funded a scholarship program for the girls in this remote Chinese village. After a few years, Kristof returned to this village and found that the money had made a huge difference for educating girls.

Kristof shared many other stories about girls and women he had met on his travels that have been significantly transformed by educational, health, or financial help. Another story was about an Indian woman who was beaten daily by her husband, but still managed to get an extremely small loan of only $65 that helped her start her own embroidery business. She eventually was able to start hiring people in her village, including her own husband, who in turn stopped beating her. "Men eventually realize that opportunities for women open doors for everyone. But women need education and income opportunities," Kristoff said.

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