Early on in Sheryl WuDunn and Nicholas Kristof’s new book, “Half the Sky” the authors note that during one of their stints in China, they realized they’d been covering the wrong story. It was while investigating the Tiananmen Square massacre that they uncovered the fact that thousands of women and girls had been dying from gender-based violence and other preventable causes of death. This had been going on for years—yet was completely under the public awareness radar. So the pair changed course. Examining what was happening to women and girls helped them understand how Tiananmen came to be.
What does it take to see the other half of the sky? You have to be willing to change your course.
Remember how a routine piece in the Washington Post about a “burglary” at the Democratic National Committee headquarters became Watergate? Reporters Woodward and Bernstein changed course and in doing so, revealed the lengths to which a president and his political operatives were willing to go to obliterate the opposition-- real and perceived. Laws were there for the breaking, privacy be damned. The rose colored glasses shading the American view of democracy came off, for good.
At the other end of the spectrum is the Rwandan Genocide. Here’s a case where journalists were on the right course—but the public wasn’t listening and the world’s governments looked the other way. 800,000 dead in three months; little outrage and even less airtime. Consequently the other side of the story went largely unnoticed. That’s the story of the ways in which women were leading efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice, heal physical and emotional wounds and build a civil society with women at the forefront. Today, women make up 51 percent of the Parliament in Rwanda; that’s more than in all branches of U.S. government combined.
We shouldn’t need a Tiananmen or Genocide to trigger a change in course. As so aptly described in the recent NY Times Magazine on the power of women’s rights, women switched gears a long time ago, we just haven’t been supporting them in a big way. And that’s the real story today. Change is coming through increased support for women’s funds, like the Global Fund for Women, that have been seeding and supporting women-led solutions all along, with great success. It’s coming from women on the frontlines –from Argentina to Pakistan—creating educational spaces, economic opportunities, legal aid, access to healthcare and more.
Women really do have the solutions. what more do you need to know to change course?
Deborah Holmes is the Vice President of Communications at the Global Fund for Women