It Takes a World to Raise a Woman: Thanksgiving-time Reflections

Dear Readers,

Here is my November 2009 posting for Today’s Chicago Woman ( I thought I would share it with you, too.

“Eat, Think & Be Merry” was the theme of the recent, 35th anniversary celebration of the Illinois Humanities Council.

The benefit luncheon featured roundtable discussions, hosted by local experts.

Topics included: “Can the public schools be saved (and should they be); Is the answer race or class; “The Chicago Way;” and my topic: “Are women’s rights the cause of our time?”

I suggested this topic to the Council’s terrific Executive Director, Kristina Valaitis, after reading a recent special issue of The New York Times Magazine: Saving the World’s Women: How changing the lives of women and girls in the developing world can change everything.

In part, the Times produced this special issue because of the attention Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has brought to the urgency of addressing the tragic plight of too, too many of the world’s women.

Indeed, all over the world, Secretary Clinton has been making the case that, if we improve women’s lives, we improve all lives.

And here’s the Secretary of State’s bold statement about the larger context in which this global fight for women’s rights is taking place.

“A society that denies and demeans women’s rights and roles is a society that is more likely to engage in behavior that is negative, anti-democratic and leads to violence and extremism.”

Well, we sure don’t need more of that, do we!

Why should today’s-Chicago-woman think about these global matters, when there’s already so much to do–right here in our very own neighborhoods–to make sure women and girls have the chance to fully participate in public life, succeed economically, and live safely?

Well, here are just the first three reasons that come to-mind: First, what Secretary Clinton says is true—more on that shortly. Second, it now appears that the U.S. will be in at least one war on foreign soil, for years to come. Chicago’s sons, husbands, brothers, and uncles, along with their sisters, wives, aunts, and daughters will be fighting and dying, for years to-come, a half-a-world-away. Third, the global economic meltdown of the last year requires a global solution.

So, in this month and week of thanksgiving (what a wonderful word that is), let us learn about our sisters across the oceans, too many of whom have too little to give much thanks for, but, with a hand-up, could give a whole lot to the rest of us.

Here are the facts and figures on their circumstances, as reported by the Global Fund for Women:

Economic Security:
Women perform two-thirds of all labor and produce more than half of the world’s food. Yet, women own only about one percent of the world’s assets, and represent 70 percent of those living in absolute poverty.

Violence Against Women:
The abuse of women and girls is endemic in most societies around the world. One in three women will be raped, beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise violated in her lifetime. Rape as a weapon of war is a feature of conflicts from Sudan to Iraq.

Two-thirds of the world’s uneducated children are girls, and two-thirds of the world’s illiterate adults are women. Numerous studies have demonstrated that educating women and girls is the single most effective strategy to ensure the well-being and health of children, and the long-term success of developing economies.

In developing countries maternal mortality is the leading cause of death for women of reproductive age. Women and girls lack access to the most basic health care services and are at the highest risk for contracting sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.

Although women make up 51 percent of the world’s population, they hold only 16 percent of parliamentary and congressional seats worldwide.

You get the point, I’m sure.

Not only does it take a village to raise a child, (a village whose caregivers, odds-are, are mostly women), but it will take the whole world to raise the whole world’s women. And when we do, the world’s men will be raised, too.

Here is a list of organizations that do this work. Check-them-out. All are just great.

The Global Fund for Women
Planned Parenthood
International Women’s Health Coalition
Women For Women International

And for those among you who want to keep really up-to-date, here is the link to the United Nations’s Gender Equality News Feed.

So, this thanksgiving season, eat, yes, and be merry, yes, but think, too: think about your sisters around the world, and how we can hold hands, and be merry, together.