In any 10-year period, the number of girls who die as a result of gender discrimination worldwide is greater than the victim count of all the genocides in the twentieth century, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nicholas Kristof said in a Tuesday guest lecture.
Kristof, who writes a column about international development for the New York Times, spoke at the Yale Law School Auditorium about his book “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression to Opportunity for Women Worldwide,” which he co-authored with his wife, Times reporter Sheryl WuDunn. In the lecture, which drew an audience of over 500. Kristof shared stories about women he encountered across the world while he was researching the book, which came out in 2010, and urged the audience to work towards grassroots social change.
“We’re dealing not just with tragedies but also opportunities,” Kristof said. “These are people who right now are squandered assets, but they can be turned, made productive for their families and communities.”
Kristof started off with a story about girls in Hubei, China who could not stay in school because they could not pay the tuition fees of $13. Kristof and WuDunn wrote an article about the girls’ plight for the New York Times in 1990. Their work elicited a flood of donations that ultimately raised sufficient funds to allow the girls in the village to go to school.
“For the first time in this community, your prospects would not be a function of your chromosome,” Kristof said.
WuDunn, who traveled around the world researching and writing the book with Kristof, will be a Senior Fellow at the Jackson Institute of Global Affairs next year and co-teach the introductory course in the Global Affairs major.
Kristof also spoke about human trafficking, which he called “a modern form of slavery.”
He told a story about buying two girls out of brothels in Cambodia in 2004. After paying $150 for one, named Srey Neth, and “just over $200” for the other, Srey Mom, Kristof said he found it “heart-wrenching” when the brothel owners handed him receipts, as if he had just purchased a material commodity.
Trafficking is a problem in the United States as well, Kristof said, adding that American teenage girls running away from bad homes sometimes end up dependent on and engaged to pimps who involve them in prostitution.
During the question and answer session at the end of the lecture, students asked Kristof how they can contribute to women’s rights efforts while still in school. He suggested that Yalies focus on their own communities, seeking non-profit organizations in New Haven and New York.
Three attendees interviewed said they were inspired by Kristof’s personal commitment to his cause and the anecdotes he shared from his travels.
Leland Whitehouse ’14 said he respected the way Kristof applied the concept “think globally, act locally” to international problems like human trafficking.
“I really admire people who make causes important and accessible, who haven’t lost a sense of humor about the world and use it in the service of something important,” Whitehouse said.
The lecture was funded by the Chubb Fellowship, administered by the master of Timothy Dwight College, and by the Yale chapter of the College Council for CARE.