Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Call for Conversation

Nicholas Kristof is a friend. We've never shared a conversation, he doesn’t know my name, but I "meet" with him on Sunday mornings and randomly throughout the week when his columns are printed. I look forward to his words and appreciate his consistent and meaningful coverage on international women's issues.

On September 15th Nicholas Kristof is hosting an online seminar advertised as, "A call to arms against our era's most pervasive human rights violation: the oppression of women in the developing world." I know that oppression exists. Therefore it is imperative to dismiss the drama while working on real life solutions. We must be careful and not commodify "The women of the developing world" with articles and seminars. Women living in countries labeled as developing are not puppets for the purpose of selling newspapers or energizing tired and overextended check books in our country's current economic slump.

"The women of the developing world" are mothers and daughters with voices and visions of their own and they must be heard not only to understand their oppression, but in order to grasp our own. We need each other. Their oppression must become my oppression, and categorizing them only serves to further compound the stereotype that our differences outweigh our similarities.

When The New York Times classified the oppression of women in the developing world as the most pervasive human rights violation in our era, what system was used? And when Eric Harr tweeted, "I firmly believe empowering marginalized women will unleash the greatest good the world has ever seen," what did he mean? We must seek to co-empower. Women are not inherently better than men. It is not up to one sex to unleash "the greatest good." Once again, we have spoken for the women of the world while placing the burden of production on their backs.

My call is for conversations regarding stories like the editorials Nicholas Kristof has written. I am thrilled with the momentum and the fact that people are paying attention to international women's issues. Nevertheless, better attention must be paid to the women themselves while working together towards tangible solutions to complicated issues.

Suzanah Raffield

*picture taken by the author, tanzania, summer 2009


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