"Throughout much of the world, the greatest unexploited economic resource is the female half of the population. Countries such as China have prospered precisely because they emancipated women and brought them into the formal economy. Unleashing that process globally is not only the right thing to do; it's also the best strategy for fighting poverty." - Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. "Studies show that when women are supported and empowered, all of society benefits. Their families are healthier, more children go to school, agricultural productivity improves and incomes increase. In short, communities become more resilient." - The Hunger Project's website.
These are the messages I heard over the weekend and it's something I'm afraid American women don't think about often enough. The gender gap is still big on all continents and it doesn't just effect women.
Friday night, as the previous blog reads, I saw the documentary Reporter. The post screening event included a bit of PR for the book Half the Sky co-authored by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. The book, as indicates above, explores the global exploitation of women and children as well as their unlimited potential to essentially save the world.
The Hunger Project (an organization committed to ending world hunger by empowering people) had a few events over this past weekend. One of their goals in battling poverty is gender equality. They seem to believe the value of a woman's contribution is immeasurable too, but of course it's a matter of access and opportunity that allows anyone promise to develop to their full potential. The promise is what intrigued me.
Several studies, including reports by the United Nations Development Fund for Women and the World Economic Forum have looked at gender equality in 5 areas, 1).Economic participation 2). Economic opportunity 3). Political empowerment 4). Educational attainment 5). Health and well-being. As the World Economic Forum's 2005 Women's Empowerment: Measuring the Global Gender Gap report states, "...the advancement of women is an important strategic issue. Countries which do not capitalize on the full potential of one half of their societies are misallocating their human resources and compromising their competitive potential."
The other day I was talking to a friend and she mentioned an upcoming Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) meeting next year to follow-up on a 1995 Beijing World Conference on Women. The next meeting for the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is this March in New York. It will be interesting to read what the commission's findings are in terms of what progresses have been made and what is still struggling to even get off the ground.
My question in relation to all this comes from the film business. I want to know how to bring issues like this to a mainstream audience and get them to care? Part of it is finding the right audience of course. Women will care probably more than anyone. That's a pretty big audience, but still I don't see some ad for a gender equality film or event and run to buy my ticket or sign up. Fortunately or unfortunately we live in an age of enormous choice and content coming from every direction (i.e. this blog from a non journalist). A person has to be selective. So what makes people slow down and take note and interest?
I think it goes back to Nicholas Kristof's examination of compassion. People more readily feel compassion for an individual rather than a number. As Eric Daniel Metzgar's narrative says in Reporter, "We've all heard that one death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic. At what point does the number of sufferers become too large for our minds to process?" That's a good question, but I think he and Nicholas D. Kristof come to the right conclusion and that is in order to touch someone deeply enough that they will take action, a personal story is essential.
Jim Goodman, Regional Director of The Hunger Project spoke at this Saturday's event at Chelsea Piers. The subject was food security. He knew the importance of the personalizing a story. In his introductory talk and slide presentation, he said, after rattling off a hunger statistic, "... a billion hungry people is hard to imagine, so what about just a woman and her child." The slide show stopped on a women sitting down, holding her baby. Then Mr. Goodman said "Now multiply." Then he asked us to picture that person to be someone we know. He stayed quiet for a few minutes. It felt effective and it should be. We should all try it.