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Women hold up half the sky

I was watching Oprah Winfrey one afternoon, her guests were Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, authors of a book called, "Half The Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for women worldwide." Their story was so compelling I went out and bought the book and read it over the following two days.

As women, we have no idea how lucky we are to be born free in Canada and this book opened my eyes to a number of atrocities committed against women around the world. The title comes from a Chinese proverb that states "Women Hold up Half the Sky.” After reading this book and informing myself on global issues that women and children face every day, I have decided that when you commit violence towards one women you commit violence against us all. We have a duty to stand up for one another and say "Enough is enough."

I was shocked to read that more than 100 million women are missing worldwide!

How many women are missing in this country? Every year, at least another 2 million girls worldwide disappear because of gender discrimination. Thirty-nine thousand baby girls die annually in China because parents don't give them the same medical care and attention that boys receive. The results is that as many girls die unnecessarily every week in China as protesters died in the one incident at Tiananmen.

In India, "bride burning" to punish the woman for an inadequate dowry or to eliminate her so a man can remarry takes place approximately once every two hours. It is estimated that approximately 5000 women and girls have been doused in kerosene and set alight by family members or in-laws or perhaps worse seared with acid for perceived disobedience just in the last nine years. All of this violence towards women rarely makes the news.

The book tells us modernization and technology can aggravate the discrimination. Since the 1990s the spread of ultrasound machines has allowed pregnant women to find out the sex of their fetuses and then get abortions if they are female. In China one peasant raved about the new ultrasound machines saying "We don't have to have daughters anymore!"

Did you know it appears that more girls have been killed in the last 50 years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the battles of the 20th century. More girls are killed in this routine "gendercide" in any one decade than people were slaughtered in all the genocides of the 20th century.

There is an exploding movement of "social entrepreneurs" who offer new approaches to supporting women in the developing world. Social entrepreneurs are not content just to give a fish or to teach how to fish. They will not rest until they have revolutionized the fishing industry. After reading this book, I decided that I wanted to be a social entrepreneur.

Through their research, Kristof and WuDunn, say, the most effective contraception for girls is education. There is an African proverb that states "You educate a boy and you're educating an individual but if you educate a girl you're educating an entire village." Educating women is the key to overcoming poverty and for overcoming war. But education does not come easy for women. One third of reported rapes of South African girls under the age of 15 are committed by teachers.

There is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women. In the book I read about an organization called "Women for Women International." It is a sponsorship organization that enables a person to support a particular woman in a needy country abroad. Basically you adopt a sister. You make a monthly donation of $27.00 of which $12.00 goes to a training program for the woman and other support efforts and $15 is given directly to the woman you pick. The managers coach the women to save, partly to build a habit of micro-savings, and partly to have a cushion when they graduate from the program in a year’s time. The women who are lucky enough to have sponsors go to morning classes that are devoted to vocational training to teach the women skills that will bring them an income for the rest of their lives. They also attend classes on health, literacy and human rights, and one aim is to make women more assertive and less accepting of injustices.

The book makes a very valid point. There could be a powerful international women's rights movement if only philanthropists would donate as much to real women as to paintings and sculptures of women.

After reading this book, I knew I had to do something so I contacted "Women for Women International" and asked if I could sponsor a sister, which I did. I am now on my forth sister. My new sister lives in Nigeria. She is widowed and is caring for three children.

I honestly believe that it will be a woman who solves the many problems of Third World countries. Maybe it's one of the women that I'm helping to educate. Maybe it will be your sister. There are so many women who need your help right now. Next Mother's Day or for your birthday do yourself a favor and pick up the book called "Half the Sky" and read it. Educate yourself about the issues that women around the world have to face every day.

Then go to the website and adopt a sister.

"You must be the change you wish to see in the world" --Mahatma Gandhi.

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