Half the SkyToday I sat in on a panel discussion that took place at the United Nations headquarters where two prominent journalists discussed a new book that they authored: Half the Sky – Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.  One of the journalists is the two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, and the other is his wife Sheryl WuDunn, who also works for New York Times.  UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the Executive Director of UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) were also present, which led me to believe that this was quite a high profile event.  In fact, the issues of gender equality and women empowerment are very much the focus of  the ECOSOC in the coming year, as I have heard one senior UN ECOSOC official recently testify.  Indeed, for gender issues to be at the forefront of United Nations priorities, high-level leadership must demonstrate their support.  In his opening remarks, the Secretary General stated emphatically: “…clearly, the antidote is women empowerment.”  He mentioned two possible ways: empowerment through micro-financing and better care of sexual and reproductive health for women.

During the panel, Nicholas Kristof was asked why he chooses to focus so much on issues of sex trafficking in his columns. Kristof replied that it all began with a trip that he took to Cambodia where he witnessed and interviewed two young girls who were sold to brothels.  Even after Kristof paid a sum of money to the brothel to ‘purchase’ the girls in return for their freedom, one of the girls actually returned to the brothel because of her drug addiction – a sad testament to the fact that the girl was in effect trapped within her predicament, and even money could not help her.  (Spoiler alert: Kristof later revealed in the book that the girl had a happy ending). Hopefully with the launch of this book, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn will be able to raise awareness and generate a healthy dialogue on these issues in the global arena.

For more information on the book, visit http://www.halftheskymovement.org/

Written by Florence Au