Pulitzer Prize-winning author WuDunn discusses gender inequity

Wednesday, December 9, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Pulitzer Prize-winning author Sheryl WuDunn has a lot of stories to tell.

On Tuesday, she shared stories about women from around the world. She spoke about a Chinese girl who received aid and stayed in school, two Cambodian girls who were kidnapped and forced into sex slavery, and an Ethiopian woman who was married against her will at 13.

And she did it without her PowerPoint presentation.

The Department of women's and gender studies at MU hosted the former New York Times journalist and editor Tuesday night in Waters Auditorium, where the projector wasn't working.

WuDunn co-authored the book, "Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women World-Wide," with her husband. It has been featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show and in The New York Times Magazine.

According to WuDunn, the two main arguments of the book focus on the moral challenge of gender inequity and the education and empowerment of women to fight poverty and extremism.

"Gender inequity’s message is that it isn’t so much that IQ matters but rather your chromosomes — your gender," WuDunn said.

WuDunn shared stories of women and girls from around the world who experienced abuses such as forced prostitution and maternal mortality. She also spoke about how everyday people can affect change in these lives.

"The moral of their stories is that women can be taken from victim to an asset to society," WuDunn said. "We need to see women as the solution and not the problem."

Kourtney Mitchell, a staff member at MU’s center for social justice, said he was excited and encouraged to hear about the work happening worldwide to address these issues.

MU senior Nabihah Maqbool reads WuDunn and her husband Nicholas Kristof's columns.

"The idea that helping people that are the most disadvantaged by giving them a step up has huge ramifications to the benefit of societies," Maqbool said.

The audience asked about what could be done for disadvantaged women on the national level and how WuDunn finds her stories.

WuDunn acknowledged that receiving aid and helping others is not easy and that the criticism of foreign aid is fair because a lot of mistakes have been made.

"Despite all the problems it is still worth getting involved," WuDunn said. "You have to learn from your mistakes and improve.”

Maqbool said she thinks that journalists can sometimes use their training in objectivity as an excuse to not become involved with these issues.

Even as a journalist trained to be objective, WuDunn is passionate about stories that need to be told.

"My view is if it’s outrageous morally, it’s outrageous period," WuDunn said.

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