I recently dusted off my copy of the book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide in preparation for Chicago Foundation for Women's 28th Annual Luncheon. I wanted to re-read the book written by the Pulitzer-prize winning journalists and husband-and-wife team, Sheryl WuDunn and Nicholas Kristof, who will be the keynote speakers for the event. I remembered why I was so struck by the book; it offered a look at the enduring power and perseverance of women and girls.
In 2009, the book became a New York Times bestseller for many reasons, but I would like to think the success of the book was because people were moved by the stories that made women and girls the center of creating solutions to end some of the most challenging issues in the world. Half the Sky invited readers to be participants in the movement for women and girls and giving them the opportunity to "...be part of the solution." By reading these stories and living this reality, if only for a few moments, the reader can comprehend what WuDunn and Kristof call "the central moral challenge of the 21st century" or, the oppression of women and girls worldwide.
The book made me think about Chicago's "moral challenges." Certain things are not so different in the Windy City, my hometown. Half the Sky forced the world to learn about the gravity of sex trafficking and slavery, rape, unspeakable poverty, maternal mortality and lack of education opportunities for girls. As I began to talk to others about the book, I wondered if many readers knew that these problems were occurring in their own backyard.In our region alone:
- According to the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, nearly 40 percent of single mothers earn less than 22,314 per year. In Illinois, 28.5 percent of female heads of households with no husbands present live in poverty.
- Chicago Police Department statistics show there were 1,416 reported cases of criminal sexual assault in 2012.
- In Chicago, during a five-year time period (2000-2004) 27 African-American women died a pregnancy-related death while only 1 White woman died; a ratio of 27:1.
- In 2012, the Cook County Sheriff announced the results of the second "National Day of John Arrests" that covered a 10-day period and involved 20 U.S. law enforcement agencies in 8 states. A total of 314 sex buyers also known as "Johns" were arrested and charged including 46 in Chicago and six in Aurora, Illinois.
No matter where you focus your attention, the issues affecting women and girls are vital to the well-being of our world. And like the women and girls in Half the Sky, there are bold, resilient and powerful women right here in Chicago who are confronting these issues head on with innovative or proven solutions.
To help with the economic security of women, organizations like the Jane Addams Resource Corporation (JARC) are training women and helping them earn a living wage. JARC's "Women in Manufacturing Program" is a 32 week, 240 hour welding program. The program serves working female heads of households. The program operates on a part-time schedule to accommodate the trainees' work schedules. Graduates attain up to four industry recognized credentials through the American Welding Society (AWS), NIMS, and OSHA.
Another bold organization which is combating sexual assault is the national, grassroots nonprofit, PAVE: Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment. PAVE uses education and action to shatter the silence of sexual and domestic violence including sexual abuse, rape, sexual assault and intimate partner violence.
The Illinois Maternal & Child Health Coalition promotes and improves the health and well-being of infants, children, mothers and families through advocacy, education, community empowerment and policy development. Their "Campaign to Save Our Babies" seeks to reduce racial/ethnic health disparities in maternal and infant mortality by 50 percent in ten years and completely by 2033 by bringing together advocates and stakeholders in health, housing, education, economic development, public safety and education.
Although our society has these perplexing topics, we should remember that women and girls are vital to the well-being of our world. I encourage you to be change agent for women and girls.
What are the biggest issues facing women and girls "HERE & NOW" in Chicago? Leave a comment below or tell me your thoughts on Twitter, @k_sujata.