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Some of Hollywood's top talents traveled with Nicholas Kristof to Somaliland, Kenya, India, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Sierra Leone to meet the women on the front lines of the campaign to secure human rights of women and girls worldwide. Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide is not in any way affiliated with or in partnership with the Half the Sky Foundation, a nonprofit organization created in to enrich the lives and enhance the prospects for orphaned children in China.

For more information about the Half the Sky Foundation, visit halfthesky. Find us on:. The Filmmakers A team of veteran filmmakers collaborated to create to bring the stories and ideas of Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn's best-selling book to public television audiences nationwide. Celebrities and Advocates Some of Hollywood's top talents traveled with Nicholas Kristof to Somaliland, Kenya, India, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Sierra Leone to meet the women on the front lines of the campaign to secure human rights of women and girls worldwide.

Find us on: Share this: The Filmmakers A team of veteran filmmakers collaborated to create to bring the stories and ideas of Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn's best-selling book to public television audiences nationwide. They were battered until they smiled constantly and simulated joy at the sight of customers, because men would not pay as much for sex with girls with reddened eyes and haggard faces. The girls were never allowed out on the street or paid a penny for their work. The girls were bused, under guard, back and forth between the brothel and a tenth-floor apartment where a dozen of them were housed.

The door of the apartment was locked from the outside. However, one night, some of the girls went out onto their balcony and pried loose a long, five-inch-wide board from a rack used for drying clothes. They balanced it precariously between their balcony and one on the next building, twelve feet away.

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The board wobbled badly, but Rath was desperate, so she sat astride the board and gradually inched across. I was scared, too, and I couldn't look down, but I was even more scared to stay. We thought that even if we died, it would be better than staying behind. If we stayed, we would die as well. They could hardly communicate with him because none of them spoke Malay, but the tenant let them into his apartment and then out its front door.

The girls took the elevator down and wandered the silent streets until they found a police station and stepped inside. The police first tried to shoo them away, then arrested the girls for illegal immigration. Rath served a year in prison under Malaysia's tough anti-immigrant laws, and then she was supposed to be repatriated.

She thought a Malaysian policeman was escorting her home when he drove her to the Thai border—but then he sold her to a trafficker, who peddled her to a Thai brothel. R ath's saga offers a glimpse of the brutality inflicted routinely on women and girls in much of the world, a malignancy that is slowly gaining recognition as one of the paramount human rights problems of this century.

The issues involved, however, have barely registered on the global agenda. Indeed,when we began reporting about international affairs in the s, we couldn't have imagined writing this book. We assumed that the foreign policy issues that properly furrowed the brow were lofty and complex, like nuclear nonproliferation. It was difficult back then to envision the Council on Foreign Relations fretting about maternal mortality or female genital mutilation. Back then, the oppression of women was a fringe issue, the kind of worthy cause the Girl Scouts might raise money for.

We preferred to probe the recondite "serious issues. The first milestone in that journey came in China. After we married, we moved to China, where seven months later we found ourselves standing on the edge of Tiananmen Square watching troops fire their automatic weapons at prodemocracy protesters. The massacre claimed between four hundred and eight hundred lives and transfixed the world.

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It was the human rights story of the year, and it seemed just about the most shocking violation imaginable. Then, the following year, we came across an obscure but meticulous demographic study that outlined a human rights violation that had claimed tens of thousands more lives.

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This study found that thirty-nine thousand baby girls die annually in China because parents don't give them the same medical care and attention that boys receive—and that is just in the first year of life. One Chinese family-planning official, Li Honggui, explained it this way: "If a boy gets sick, the parents may send him to the hospital at once. But if a girl gets sick, the parents may say to themselves, 'Well, let's see how she is tomorrow.

Those Chinese girls never received a column inch of news coverage, and we began to wonder if our journalistic priorities were skewed. A similar pattern emerged in other countries, particularly in South Asia and the Muslim world. In India, a "bride burning"—to punish a woman for an inadequate dowry or to eliminate her so a man can remarry—takes place approximately once every two hours, but these rarely constitute news.

In the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi, Pakistan, five thousand women and girls have been doused in kerosene and set alight by family members or in-laws—or, perhaps worse, been seared with acid—for perceived disobedience just in the last nine years. Imagine the outcry if the Pakistani or Indian governments were burning women alive at those rates. Yet when the government is not directly involved, people shrug. When a prominent dissident was arrested in China, we would write a front-page article; when , girls were routinely kidnapped and trafficked into brothels, we didn't even consider it news.


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Partly that is because we journalists tend to be good at covering events that happen on a particular day, but we slip at covering events that happen every day—such as the quotidian cruelties inflicted on women and girls. We journalists weren't the only ones who dropped the ball on this subject: Less than 1 percent of U.


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Amartya Sen, the ebullient Nobel Prize—winning economist, has developed a gauge of gender inequality that is a striking reminder of the stakes involved. Sen noted that in normal circumstances women live longer than men, and so there are more females than males in much of the world.


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Even poor regions like most of Latin America and much of Africa have more females than males. Yet in places where girls have a deeply unequal status, they vanish. China has males for every females in its overall population and an even greater disproportion among newborns , India has , and Pakistan has This has nothing to do with biology, and indeed the state of Kerala in the southwest of India, which has championed female education and equality, has the same excess of females that exists in the United States.

The implication of the sex ratios, Professor Sen found, is that about million females are missing from the globe today.

Follow-up studies have calculated the number slightly differently, deriving alternative figures for "missing women"of between 60 million and million. Every year, at least another 2 million girls worldwide disappear because of gender discrimination. In the wealthy countries of the West, discrimination is usually a matter of unequal pay or underfunded sports teams or unwanted touching from a boss. In contrast, in much of the world discrimination is lethal. In India, for example, mothers are less likely to take their daughters to be vaccinated than their sons—that alone accounts for one fifth of India's missing females—while studies have found that, on average, girls are brought to the hospital only when they are sicker than boys taken to the hospital.

All told, girls in India from one to five years of age are 50 percent more likely to die than boys the same age. The best estimate is that a little Indian girl dies from discrimination every four minutes. A big, bearded Afghan named Sedanshah once told us that his wife and son were sick. He wanted both to survive, he said, but his priorities were clear: A son is an indispensable treasure, while a wife is replaceable. He had purchased medication for the boy alone. Since the s, the spread of ultrasound machines has allowed pregnant women to find out the sex of their fetuses—and then get abortions if they are female.

In Fujian Province, China, a peasant raved to us about ultrasound: "We don't have to have daughters anymore! Yet that is a flawed solution. Research shows that when parents are banned from selectively aborting female fetuses, more of their daughters die as infants.

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Mothers do not deliberately dispatch infant girls they are obligated to give birth to, but they are lackadaisical in caring for them. A development economist at Brown University, Nancy Qian, quantified the wrenching trade-off: On average, the deaths of fifteen infant girls can be avoided by allowing one hundred female fetuses to be selectively aborted. The global statistics on the abuse of girls are numbing.

It appears that more girls have been killed in the last fifty years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the wars of the twentieth century. More girls are killed in this routine "gendercide" in any one decade than people were slaughtered in all the genocides of the twentieth century.

In the nineteenth century, the central moral challenge was slavery. In the twentieth century, it was the battle against totalitarianism.

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We believe that in this century the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for gender equality in the developing world. T he owners of the Thai brothel to which Rath was sold did not beat her and did not constantly guard her. So two months later, she was able to escape and make her way back to Cambodia. Upon her return, Rath met a social worker who put her in touch with an aid group that helps girls who have been trafficked start new lives.

She found a good spot in the open area between the Thai and Cambodian customs offices in the border town of Poipet. Travelers crossing between Thailand and Cambodia walk along this strip, the size of a football field, and it is lined with peddlers selling drinks, snacks, and souvenirs. Rath outfitted her cart with shirts and hats, costume jewelry, notebooks, pens, and small toys. Now her good looks and outgoing personality began to work in her favor, turning her into an effective saleswoman.

She saved and invested in new merchandise, her business thrived, and she was able to support her parents and two younger sisters. She married and had a son, and she began saving for his education. In , Rath turned her cart into a stall, and then also acquired the stall next door.

She also started a "public phone" business by charging people to use her cell phone. So if you ever cross from Thailand into Cambodia at Poipet, look for a shop on your left, halfway down the strip, where a teenage girl will call out to you, smile, and try to sell you a souvenir cap. She'll laugh and claim she's giving you a special price, and she's so bubbly and appealing that she'll probably make the sale. R ath's eventual triumph is a reminder that if girls get a chance, in the form of an education or a microloan, they can be more than baubles or slaves; many of them can run businesses.

Talk to Rath today—after you've purchased that cap—and you find that she exudes confidence as she earns a solid income that will provide a better future for her sisters and for her young son.