Women are the solution

Award-winning New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof discusses the vital role of women in addressing development issues across the globe.

“Are there more males or more females in the world today?” New York Times op-ed columnist Nicholas D. Kristof polls the audience at the beginning of his lecture. “Males?” A few tentative hands go up. “Females?” Most of the attendees in a packed-to-the-ceiling Hendricks Chapel raise their hands.

The answer is men. But Kristof’s answer to the world’s troubles is women.

Photo: Jennifer Jakubowski
New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof shares his perspectives Wednesday with a capacity crowd at Hendricks Chapel.

Replay updates from Kristof's talk from The NewsHouse's live coverage

The fifth speaker in this year's University Lecture series, Kristof is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and columnist for The New York Times since 2001. He has traveled to more than 140 countries and is known for his in-depth and unabashed commentary and coverage of the genocide in Darfur. He has co-authored three books with his wife, Sheryl WuDunn. Their most recent collaboration, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, was released in 2009.

Kristof peppered his lecture with real-life examples of women overcoming their circumstances. A Chinese girl who became the first in her family to graduate from grade school, middle school, high school, then college. Two girls Kristof bought out of slavery in Cambodia. An Ethiopian girl who nearly died in childbirth, crawled 30 miles for help, and now works as a nurse on the same hospital staff that saved her life.

Kristof emphasized the part these women played in making him aware of the importance of girls’ education and also how these girls act as transformative examples for others. “You can take people who are squandered assets and turn them into productive, useful assets for their families, their communities and their countries,” he said.

He addressed the importance of women “controlling the purse strings” and finding ways to work, halting human trafficking, promoting maternal health and providing aid that has an impact.

“I find it particularly frustrating that we can muster $100 billion for this year’s troops in Afghanistan, but we can’t muster much more modest amounts, a billion dollars, even, to promote global education,” he said, adding that $10 billion would be enough to put virtually every child in the world in primary school.

And finally, he posed the question we often ask ourselves in the face of corruption and seemingly never-ending problems: “Why should I care?” Kristof answered, “You come to see your own life very differently when you have engaged in other people’s [lives].” Throughout the lecture, he encouraged students to go out and see the world and experience lifestyles and cultures different from their own.

During the Q&A, Kristof brought up the idea that “much oppression of women is done by other women.”

Magazine junior Hannah Warren said Kristoff's talk left her with mixed feelings.

“To a certain extent, he has good intentions," Warren said. "But the way he was talking about some of the issues and the way he was representing the cultures and the people and the women who are oppressing other women as the culprits somehow doesn’t sit right with me.”

Brianna Suslovic, a junior at Jamesville-Dewitt High School interested in pursuing journalism at SU, had a different take. “I think he provided a lot of really good, specific examples that really got to your heart,” she said. “He brought his emotion to each one of his stories. I respect him as a journalist.”

Kristof closed with a provoking statement about being thankful for but also acting on the opportunities we are given.

“The fact that we are all right here in this room means that we truly have won the lottery of life, and the question becomes how we go about discharging the responsibility that comes with it."

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