"Saving the World's Women" in the New York Times

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It bothers me a little bit that the small print above the August 23 issue of The New York Times Magazine reads, "Saving the World's Women." I'm not sure why. Maybe there's something weirdly patriarchal about it, conjuring images of women sitting around waiting to be rescued? The word "saving" almost implies some sort of blame, as if the world's women did something stupid and now we need to save them from themselves. Or maybe it is the cultural baggage that comes from an American magazine imploring readers to "save" people, which reminds me of all the "saving" that we did in the past that created a lot of other problems. Anyway, aside from my nitpicky initial reaction to something in minuscule font, it is great that the August 23 issue focuses on women who are marginalized and ignored.

The main article, Why Women's Rights Are the Cause of Our Time, by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, is an excerpt from their forthcoming book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. I've long been a fan of Kristof. He is one of the few - if maybe the only - consistent voice in the mainstream media that focuses on women's rights around the world. Kristof and WuDunn focus on how economic empowerment makes a difference in the lives of women (incidentally, this is true everywhere, not just in developing nations), and uses several microfinance case studies to illustrate the point. Further, as Sara Yasin at Muslima Media Watch wrote:

The most respectable feature of Kristof’s article was a general appreciation for the culture as well as efforts of these women. In these articles, I saw an awareness of a need for not only women’s empowerment, but for the respect of their cultures. This message of empowerment through tolerance was distorted by the decision of the magazine to feature an article about “The Feminist Hawks”. According to the article, feminist hawks advocate “the use of force to liberate women from persecution and burkas”. While the article did not condone or admonish the feminist hawks, featuring it amongst the other stories sent a confusing message. I feel that the feminist hawk position is self-serving and imperialistic. I wondered about the tactics described in the other articles in the issue versus that of the hawks. Force would only sustain a cycle of violence and ultimately, poverty. Such groups do not understand the true problem, which is one involving social and economic factors, which at times, manifests itself behind a mask of religion.

...I thought this was a significant read, not only because it relates to my graduate studies, but because it had a message which we need in foreign affairs in general: empowerment through understanding. For a while, I thought I wanted to join the Peace Corps, and from informational sessions, I learned that the best volunteers were those that actually absorbed the culture and listened to the needs of the villages that they worked with. I know that this is going to be a challenge for our world, but I really believe that we are moving towards attempting to grasp a better understanding of not only solutions, but the relationship between problems that plague our world.

Although I tend to agree with Yasin's take on the so-called "feminist hawks," author Phyllis Chesler has a fundamentally different take on the issue (and that of misogyny in mainstream media reporting) at Chesler Chronicles. Balancing cultural relativism and my privilege as a white woman raised in the West is something that I really struggle with, so reading the two women's perspectives on "feminist hawks" (a term which I am hating more and more as I write this) was interesting.

On a different note, Lisa Belkin wrote about how female philanthropists are now focusing their efforts to aid women in need. (She also notes that women and men practice philanthropy differently, with women less interested in having their names plastered on their donations.) Nadine Hack at bringing causes to life followed up on Belkin's article with more facts about how philanthropy affects women:

...as Lisa Belkin wrote in her piece on women and philanthropy, women’s financial support of other women represents change of a dramatic magnitude... Though the face of philanthropy has changed with nearly half of all the foundation CEOs and 70% of program officers being women, less than ten percent of overall funding is aimed at programs that directly impact women and girls. Before the Ms. Foundation was created close to four decades ago, this figure was less than three percent. But, everything is shifting fast and we need to keep our hands on the plow, as the economic strength of women is growing: just read some of the facts and figures from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute. And, if that doesn’t blow you away, check out The Girl Effect.

Christine C. at Our Bodies Ourselves sums up the rest of the "special women's issue:"

In... “The Daughter Deficit,” Tina Rosenberg probes why discrimination against girls persists even among wealthier, more developed areas... a Q & A with Secretary of State Hilary Clinton on plans to push women’s rights issues on the international stage; a reporter returns to a school for girls in Afghanistan that was the site of a violent attack; an interview with Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the only female head of state in Africa... and a poignant “Lives” column that concludes with an HIV-positive 16-year-old’s simple plea: a safe place to be a girl.

Whether the teeny, tiny subtitle of the issue rankles others as much as it did me (and Ann at Feministing), the editors at The New York Times did a nice job on putting together a magazine that sparked productive discussion onthe situation faced by women around the globe, and why women's equality is crucial to human progress as a whole.

Suzanne also blogs at Campaign for Unshaved Snatch (CUSS) & Other Rants. She is the author of Off the Beaten (Subway) Track, which has nothing to do with women's rights, but is a fun book about unusual things to see and do in New York City.

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