What Can One Person Do to Empower Women?

This post was written by Danielle Rind, a member of the Jolkona team.

I was first introduced to Half the Sky by my mother after she attended an event featuring Nicholas Kristof. When I received Kristof’s book I had very recently become involved with the Jolkona Foundation, a non-profit that provides a platform for individuals to donate money to causes and organizations around the world. I quickly learned about Jolkona’s partnering non-profits and the help that these organizations provide. But this was only the beginning of what I was soon to learn regarding the endless needs and human rights violations that exist around world. Kristof’s book helped educate me further…

Each page of Half the Sky was a bigger eye opener than the last. Kristof provides detailed and moving stories of women who have suffered more than I ever dreamed possible.

About 85 pages into Kristof’s book I was introduced to a horrifying yet common injury women in poor countries face today. It is called an obstetric fistula and if you are anything like me this may be one of the first times you’ve heard this term before. An obstetric fistula is a hole between a woman’s vagina and rectum or vagina and bladder leading to difficulty using the restroom, serious leakage of feces and urine along with pain, humiliation and potential infection. A fistula is most commonly caused by early childbirth — when a fetus is trapped inside a mother’s vaginal canal for too long (generally due to a lack of medical attention and a girl’s young age and small pelvic size) a tear occurs within the mother’s uterus. Fistulas can be treated by surgery and those generally caused by childbirth are still very common and unnecessary in the developing world. But a new cause of fistulas has recently developed and spread like a virus.

In 2008 the UN formally declared rape “a weapon of war”

I suppose it’s not really a war tactic though since war involves killing and wounding soldiers, not civilians but I guess those are just details… Today women are being torn apart not just from childbirth but by blunt objects being shoved into them. These include sticks, guns, knives and just about any other horrifyingly unimaginable object that can be found.

Just to REALLY get this point across, I’d like to quote a line from Kristof’s book for you:

In one instance, soldiers raped a three-year-old girl and then fired their guns into her. When surgeons saw her, there was no tissue left to repair. The little girl’s grief-stricken father then committed suicide.

Lovely, isn’t it? I don’tt even think I can comment on an act this horrendous. Did you even know atrocities like this were occurring today? Can you even understand or comprehend them? It almost makes me laugh in disbelief.

I know these stories are difficult to digest as many of Kristof’s are, but it is crucial for us to read about them, learn about them and, most importantly, talk about them. We can live our lives day-to-day never knowing about or thinking about others who are suffering so much unnecessarily. And as much pain as you feel reading the stories of these battered and abused women, it is nowhere near the pain and suffering that they go through every minute of every day. We’d almost rather forget about it, ignore it, because we feel powerless to change it. But as I learned, there are ways to save these girls and ways you can help.

If we truly want to make an impact…

We have to realize that the brutal treatment of women can be prevented not only by promoting peace on a large scale, but by giving women the basic tools to improve their lives on a daily basis. Girls are treated as second class citizens in far too many parts of the world. They are denied education, sold into brothels and slavery, denied the rights to work or handle money and denied what we in America consider every human’s number one right―a voice. Ironically these lack of rights not only affect women as individuals, they affect whole countries. Countries where women are educated, able to earn money and rise to positions of power are countries that succeed.

Kristof compares East Asia to India and Africa; East Asia recently began educating its female population and as a result has prospered in the last decade while continents like Africa and Asia refuse to properly educate their women and face continued turmoil and economic difficulty. Educating women creates jobs, delays marriage and pregnancy (and therefore fistulas from childbirth) and boosts a slow economy. How silly is it to deprive half of a country’s population from contributing to society? How far does that country really expect to go…? To drill this point in a bit further I would like to quote Kofi Annan (2006 UN Secretary-General) who Kristof quotes in his book:

It is impossible to realize our goals while discriminating against half the human race. As study after study has taught us, there is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women.

If I had not been working with the Jolkona Foundation as I read Kristof’s book, I’m not sure I would have been able to sleep at night. Knowing that girls out there just like me, like my little cousin, like the teenage girl next door are being raped and tortured would have been too painful of a realization for me to bare, had I not felt that I was in some way working to help them.

The Jolkona Foundation supports Kristof’s book and ideas in so many ways; the Jolkona Foundation raises money for organizations that provide books for girls to go to school, organizations that doll out prenatal vitamins and post natal care, organizations that try to prevent honor killings by putting women in safe homes before their families can attack. The Jolkona Foundation is the practice of Kristof’s theory; his vision to help brought to life. There are so many women out there with the potential to be saved and organizations that can and want to help. But they need your help too―you can donate your money to these organizations, or you can donate your time. But you’ve already taken the most important step: educating yourself.

Don’t shy away from uncomfortable topics such as obstetric fistulas or rape or war.

Read the news, read Kristof’s book, read many books and learn about how lucky you are and how lucky others are not. I’m not asking you to feel guilty about your life and lifestyle I’m simply asking you to think. Think about what it would be like if you had been born into a poverty stricken home in Nepal. Sold by your parents at age 8 only to be raped daily in a brothel for the rest of your life just so your family can survive another week or two on the $8 your sale brought them. This may not have happened to you but it is happening to someone else. And if we help save that one little girl and her family the same brothel will still continue buying and selling children. And if that one brothel does close the demand still exists and a new brothel will likely open in its place.

I know it all seems like an endless cycle of problems and you think, “what can any one person do?” Well, the Jolkona Foundation challenges this way of thinking. Every change starts with just one person and they built their platform around the vision that every effort counts. So start off by doing something small; large scale progress doesn’t happen overnight, it takes time and energy, but it starts with you.

Kristof begins each of his chapters with a relevant and moving quote; I would like to end with one from his book:

Are women human yet? If women were human, would we be a cash crop shipped from Thailand in containers to New York’s brothels…? Would our genitals be sliced out to “cleanse us”…? When will women be human? When? – Catherine A. McKinnon, Are Women Human

About the author: Danielle Rind is helping to coordinate Jolkona Foundation’s partners. She is a recent graduate of Boston University with a degree in business administration and a concentration in marketing. She is also a Jr. Media Planner for Mediaedge CIA in Seattle working on the Amazon account. In her spare time, Danielle enjoys reading and painting but mostly spending time with her family and close friends.


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  1. Seth Cochran / March 11, 2010

    Love this blog post. Thanks so much for spreading the word about obstetric fistula!

  2. Barri / March 11, 2010


    Great Job!!!

  3. Barri / March 11, 2010


  4. Taylor / March 11, 2010

    eye-opening article.


  5. Auntie Janet / March 11, 2010

    Danielle: I am so proud of you. You should note that Rabbi Rosenbaum of Herzl is spending part of his sabbatical in India working with a group active in providing education to the young girls and boys from the brothels. He is, as am I, a great admirer of Nicholas Kristof. Rabbi Rosenbaum hopes to link Herzl with this community in India. Keep up your wonderful work. Love, Auntie Janet

  6. Janni Jaffe / March 11, 2010

    Danielle, you are an AMAZING young woman, one whom I’ve had the priviledge to watch grow and mature. You’ve taught me about a subject I had no idea was as prevelant as you’ve stated, and I’m moved by your dedication, sense of conviction and strength of character you’ve shared with us all.
    Continue your good efforts, and thank you for shedding light upon such a horrific situation, and for being as proactive as you’ve become.
    I’m proud to call you my friend!

  7. Karen Hudesman / March 12, 2010

    Even though we have an awareness of the horrific tortures done to women in many parts of the world it is important that we shed light on these issues. Thank you for being brave enough to talk, read, and educate others…one step at a time. Great Job!

  8. Danielle Rind / March 12, 2010

    Thank you everyone for all your support! I’m so glad people are reading my peice and learning something new. It means a lot to me seeing that you all care about these issues just as much as I do.

    Please continue to comment and discuss!

  9. Eileen F. S. / October 21, 2010

    I read Half the Sky and was also deeply moved by it. I chose to get a copy for my local newspaper editor to ensure that a world view – with possible solutions – was considered as my editor took stories to print.

    I do note that many of the comments refer to Kristof as the author; it would be more correct to give credit to the second author, Sherly WuDunn, his wife.

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