Tag Archives: new york times

A Lifetime Searching for Lost Beauty

auschwitz It’s  been almost 70 years since the end of World War II, yet in the time since it ended, we’ve still felt the reverberations of the damage done in the six years of war.

A new example? In the past year, German officials have discovered a trove of approximately 1,400 works by artists like Matisse, Renoir and Picasso just waiting to be found in a Munich apartment.

Beside the feeling of elation over the recovery of works long thought lost is the heartbreaking reminder that there are still families seeking the restoration of pieces looted or sold by their family at rock bottom prices in an attempt to escape Nazi persecution. Reading the article ourselves, we were amazed by the number of grandchildren and great grandchildren who have spent a lifetime committed to bringing a part of their lost family home. Uncovering the works were a victory for honoring the artists but also for the men and women who originally owned them.

Read the story and then see a sample of the recovered pieces here.

What do you think of this amazing find? Share your thoughts in the comments below. 

Why You Should Not Stop Taking Your Vitamins

pale-woman-taking-vitamins_123rf.com_Do vitamins kill people? How many people have died from taking vitamins? Should you stop your vitamins?

It depends. To be exact, it depends on the quality of the science and the very nature of scientific research. It is very hard to know things exactly through science. The waste bin of science is full of fallen heroes like Premarin, Vioxx and Avandia (which alone was responsible for 47,000 excess cardiac deaths since it was introduced in 1999).

That brings us to the latest apparent casualty, vitamins. The recent media hype around vitamins is a classic case of drawing the wrong conclusions from good science.

Remember how doctors thought that hormone replacement therapy was the best thing since sliced bread and recommended it to every single post-menopausal woman? These recommendations were predicated on studies that found a correlation between using hormones and reduced risk of heart attacks. But correlation does not prove cause and effect. It wasn’t until we had controlled experiments like the Women’s Health Initiative that we learned Premarin (hormone replacement therapy) was killing women, not saving them.

New studies “proving” that vitamins kill people hit front pages and news broadcasts across the country seemingly every day.

Paul A. Offit’s recent piece in The New York Times, “Don’t Take Your Vitamins,” mentioned a number of studies that suggested a correlation between supplementation and increased risk of death. Offit asserts, “It turns out … that scientists have known for years that large quantities of supplemental vitamins can be quite harmful indeed.” The flaws in the studies he quoted have been well documented. Giving large doses of a single antioxidant is known to set up a chain reaction that creates more free radicals.

But many studies do not prove anything. Science is squirrelly. You only get the answers to the questions you ask. Many of the studies that are performed are called observational studies or epidemiological studies. They are designed to look for or “observe” correlations. Studies like this look for clues that should then lead to further research. They are not designed to be used to guide clinical medicine or public health recommendations.

All doctors and scientists know that this type of study does not prove cause and effect.

Why Scientists Are Confused

At a recent medical conference, one of most respected scientists of this generation, Bruce Ames, made a joke. He said that epidemiologists (people who do population-based observational studies) have a difficult time with their job and are easily confused. Dr. Ames joked that in Miami, epidemiologists found everybody seems to be born Hispanic but die Jewish. Why? Because if you looked at population data in the absence of the total history and culture of Florida during a given time, this would be the conclusion you would draw. This joke brings home the point that correlation does not equal causation.

Aside from the fact that they fly in the face of an overwhelming body of research that proves Americans are nutrient deficient as a whole and that nutritional supplements can have significant impact in disease prevention and health promotion, many recent studies on vitamins are flawed in similar ways.

How Vitamins Save Money and Save Lives

Overwhelming basic science and experimental data support the use of nutritional supplements for the prevention of disease and the support of optimal health. The Lewin Group estimated a $24 billion savings over five years if a few basic nutritional supplements were used in the elderly. Extensive literature reviews in the Journal of the American Medical Association and the New England Journal of Medicine also support this view. Interventional trials have proven benefit over and over again.

The concept that nutritional supplements “could be harmful” flies in the face of all reasonable facts from both intervention trials and outcome studies published over the past 40 years. For example, recent trials published within the last few years indicate that modest nutritional supplementation in middle age women found their telomeres didn’t shorten. Keeping your telomeres (the little end caps on your DNA) long is the hallmark of longevity and reduced risk of disease. A recent study found that B12, B6 and folate given to people with memory loss prevented brain atrophy that is associated with aging and dementia. In fact, those who didn’t take the vitamins had almost ten times loss of brain volume as those who took the vitamins.

A plethora of experimental controlled studies–which are the gold standard for proving cause and effect–over the last few years found positive outcomes in many diseases. These include the use of calcium and vitamin D in women with bone loss; folic acid in people with cervical dysplasia (pre-cancerous lesions); iron for anemics; B-complex vitamins to improve cognitive function; zinc, vitamins C and E and carotenoids to lower the risk of macular degeneration; and folate and vitamin B12 to treat depression. This is but a handful of examples. Fish oil is approved by the FDA for lowering triglycerides and reduces risk of heart attacks and more. There are many other studies ignored by Offit in his New York Times piece.

Stay tuned for Part 2!


Originally published on my website, DrHyman.com.

Denied an Abortion – What Now? A Study on the Effects of Unwanted Motherhood

Screen Shot 2013-06-14 at 3.05.08 PMIt may have been one spontaneous night with an ex, never to be replicated; or perhaps a traumatic moment of violence and sexual abuse. She could be unemployed, ill, very young, or already a bit creaky in the joints. Maybe she has other kids at home and a partner in active duty, in prison, in the hospital, or deceased. And in the midst of working, paying bills, job hunting, taking care of children, doing homework, or whatever her daily responsibilities include, the tender belly and light periods get pushed to the back of her mind – until it’s too late.

Whatever their reasons, these are the women who discover their pregnancies late in the game, determine their best course of action is abortion, and upon medical inspection are turned away from the procedures they desperately want or need. How do these women, the ones forced into motherhood, fare and what are the effects of their denied abortions?

This question provides the foundation for an ongoing study, called “The Turnaway Study” run by Diana Greene Foster, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California, San Francisco. Researching abortion clinics around the country, Foster’s study aims to determine the differing effects, if any, between women who seek late-term abortions and get them versus women who seek late-term abortions but are denied them, most often due to timing. (Individual states’ and clinic’s limits vary, but tend to fall sometime in the second trimester.) Such effects might range from the psychological and emotional, to socioeconomic factors, to long-term physical health. In essence, is there any statistical evidence to prove that women are any better or worse off for keeping a baby, even if they wholeheartedly wanted to terminate the pregnancy?

This study lands in public discourse at a time when pro-life advocates preach the many dangers to women’s mental and physical health resulting from abortion. It isn’t a hard line of reasoning to follow, especially given the hormones that are already being released in early pregnancy. But, as noted in a thorough article published in the New York Times, the psychological and health effects of carrying a pregnancy to term – and then, of course, raising a child – can be just as overwhelming, if not more so.

Based on Foster’s study, women in the turnaway group suffered greater health effects, including increased hypertension rates and chronic pelvic pain, as well as socioeconomic effects that left them below the poverty line three times more often than the women who received abortions. Both groups, however, Lang points out, began with similar life circumstances.

Only 6.6 percent of near-limit patients in the study and 5.6 percent of turnaways finished college (nearly 30 percent of adult American women have a bachelor’s degree). One in 10 were on welfare, and approximately 80 percent reported not having enough money to meet basic living needs. A majority, in both groups, already had at least one child.

These are interesting statistics on several counts. First of all, women seeking abortions later in their terms share a baseline social disadvantage that includes less education, lower income, and, now, pregnancy on top of their other responsibilities. In being forced into motherhood by denial of an abortion, these women experience all the physical strains of pregnancy and childbirth, as well as the often-overwhelming financial burden of another mouth to feed. No one sets out to someday get an abortion, but when it comes down to it, some women feel this is their best option – and the results of Foster’s study might give us cause to concur.

Both Foster and Lang are mindful of the politically-charged nature of this research, though. Foster does not consider herself a pro-choice pioneer, but rather a concerned ob-gyn, interested in determining what is best for women’s health.

The purpose of Foster’s study is not to set policy by suggesting new or uniform gestational limits. She notes, however, that there are ways to reduce the number of women seeking abortion at an advanced gestational age by improving access to reproductive health care. But Foster sees herself as a scientist, not an advocate. She did not set out, she says, to disprove that abortion is harmful. “If abortion hurts women,” she says, “I definitely want to know.”

Truth be told, there is no pro-abortion movement. Nobody “supports” abortion, of course, because ultimately we would hope to live in a world in which people who want to have children do, and those who don’t, don’t. The point is rather that women know what is best for them and their families, and childbearing may not factor into that at the moment.

It’s a delicate topic, though, and one that certainly warrants further discussion. Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below!

Is Monogamy Killing Women’s Sex Drive? The New Drug That Might Help.

Blue Moment Pt. 1“Women are programmed for monogamy” goes the conventional understanding we’ve clung to since Victorian times. After all, they have a finite number of eggs, which means the pressure to secure a viable mate and reproduce is more pressing for them than for men, who produce limitless sperm over the course of a lifetime. It’s a tidy package that, ostensibly, helps maintain societal order and respectability. Let men do a bit of wandering and experimenting – because “boys will be boys,” after all – but women will always maintain the hearth and the family unit. Well, hold on to your wives because new research is painting a very different picture of women’s sexuality.

The story begins with a young, broken-hearted Dutch university student, Adriaan Tuiten. Adriaan had been in love with the same girl since he was 13-years-old, and then in their mid-20’s she unexpectedly broke up with him. Fast-forward thirty-plus years, Tuiten is now the primary inventor and researcher behind the new female sex drugs Librido and Libridos. That experience of losing the woman he loved sparked a lifetime fascination – dare we say obsession? – with women’s sexuality and romantic inclinations. “I was shocked. I was suffering,” Tuiten told the New York Times reporter. “I’m a little bit — not insane. But. There became a need for me to understand my personal life in this way.”

And what has he come to understand? For one, women are no more “programmed” for monogamy than men are. If anything, research suggests that sexual desire drops over the course of a long-term relationship more often for women than it does for men. Menopause and other hormonal changes may be the culprit, as well as the effects of antidepressant medication (which millions of American women are on), but as we all know, sexual desire entails more than just physiology. What’s at the heart of sexual desire and intimacy is still a mystery.

The extended New York Times article addresses many facets of this new perspective on women’s sexuality: Maybe women are just bored. Maybe love, intimacy, and desire are all separate categories that become threatened when mixed. Maybe society teaches men to be unbridled sexually, whereas women are encouraged to contain their desire – the effects of which create real neural responses to mirror these learned beliefs.

Either way, Librido – which is designed to address both the physiological and emotional/psychological issues of desire – is up for F.D.A. approval. Research trials have shown significant rates of success, and for some this may seem like the answer to a lifelong struggle with sex drive. Ultimately, though, we don’t really know what causes desire, what makes people fall in love, what sustains long-term intimacy, or any of the other nuances of romantic love. It still seems fairly archaic to assume something inherently different between women’s and men’s sexuality – but hey, everyone has to figure that out for themselves.

What do you think of this new research on women’s sex drive? Let us know in the comments section below!


Image credit: Dennis Brekke

6 Ideas To Switch Up Your Work and Study Place To Learn More and Work More Efficiently

According to a recent study written about in the New York Times, we learn better and retain information more effectively when we switch up our study and work environments. So for the wanderlusters who can’t sit still in a sterile library room for hours at a time or have to hop from cafe to cafe to get a paper done, fear not–when your brain craves a little novelty in your studying or working environment, it’s perfectly normal and actually is a very good thing.

As somebody who is lucky to work from home, I can definitely attest to this. Staying holed up in my apartment all day definitely does not do me any good. I work best when I can switch it up and work in different settings, whether it is a local coffee house, a bookstore or a friend’s couch. Sometimes I prefer the solitude of staying at home, and sometimes I prefer the background buzz of strangers conversing over their lattes and frappucinos in a busy part of the city. Variety indeed is the spice of life when it comes to working and learning.

So what can we all start doing to spice up our usual hum-drum study desks, work cubicles and offices? Here are 6 tips to start adding some exciting variety to your usual working environment: 

– Make a habit to study and work at different locations. Explore new wifi hot-spots in your neighborhood. There is nothing like the joy of discovering a new coffee house that has great internet, big desks and a welcoming cafe vibe.

– Switch up between working alone and working in groups. Sometimes you really need to hole yourself up somewhere to concentrate. Other times, it helps to bounce off the energy of other people’s ideas. Switch between both.

– Stuck in the same cubicle all day? Change the appearance of your environment, even if it is a little bit. It can be as simple as adding a potted bonsai plant on your desk, adding framed pictures, or simply de-cluttering the pile of papers and office supplies covering half of your desk space.

– Listen to different music than what you usually listen to. Switch up radio stations, listen to different podcasts, get new music from your musically inclined friends. If you can’t change your location, you can at least change the soundtrack of your study / work session.

– If you work at home, find local meet-ups of other freelancers who work from home. In many big cities, freelancers who are not bound by the cubicle do regular meet-ups at coffee houses and other public wifi places during the day so they can bond communally as "co-workers" instead of always being isolated. See if there is a freelance group in your neighborhood, or start your own.

– Ok, this is cheesy but it’s effective… change your ATTITUDE. Attitude changes everything. You can be moaning and groaning that it is still the middle of the week, or be absolutely thankful that you are employed when millions of people don’t have regular jobs. You can be annoyed that your boss gave you a big project that will take a lot of your time, or be honored that you are trusted with a big responsibility that you know you will excel at. At the end of the day, it is always an optimistic and enthusiastic attitude that will keep everything fresh, no matter what.

PHOTO (cc): Flickr / TheNickster



What It Is REALLY Like To Get Your Picture In The New York Times

First off let me state clearly that we were over-the-moon-happy with Amy Wallace’s feature story on Daily Grommet in The New York Times Sunday Business section yesterday.  Here’s a picture of me holding it.


Yes, I am wearing 20-year-old overalls.

This is our first “big” national story and we were lucky to be in the hands of such a skilled journalist.

But here’s my former fantasy (held since childhood) about what it would be like to get my picture taken for an important article:

  • I’d get a good night’s sleep before the photo session.  And I would be serene and composed, having deferred all difficult tasks to another day.
  • I would make sure my hair looked good.
  • I’d carefully plan my wardrobe to be flattering and, surely, project the right image.

Here is what really happened.  We had one hour’s notice of the photo shoot. I’ve been traveling non stop and we realized we HAD to do it on a rare day in the office. The NYT pulled a photographer out of the hat very quickly to accommodate.

Joanne and I each had a brief 10 second panic.  Not just for the surprise.  More that we were in no state to be photographed.  And that is not vanity talking…

It was a 95 degree high humidity day in Boston and we had spent most of it shooting video.  That is tiring in itself, but the hardest part is we have to turn off the air conditioning in the office to avoid the blowing sounds.  It’s a challenging day for all of us because of that.  (No heat in the winter either, but that is not as uncomfortable.)

Joanne and I were stained, rumpled, sweaty messes.  Whatever hairdo or makeup we had sported in the morning had been long wiped out.  We each  made a quick plan to buzz home and put on something clean.  I said, “I’m coming back in a white t-shirt and a black vest.”  She said, “No!  That’s my go-to outfit for pictures.” Clearly we’ve been working together too closely.

I thought about fighting back.  But I then realized I could make no such impressive claim to having a “a go-to outfit.”  So I stuck with the wrinkled (never ironed it in the AM anyway) linen print dress I had on.  (Julia reassured me it was “very Grommet.”)  I did go home to slap on some makeup…but the reality of that photo is we were still dripping with sweat and anything but fresh.

Jodi Hilton took this for the New York Times. She was lovely and talented.

When the actual article came out (online first) I was afraid to look (not so much for the photo but for any stray bonehead quotes I had provided).    We knew it would hit at 3PM on Saturday and I cowardly stayed down on the dock in Maine while my family and a bunch of friends from Dublin and Detroit  were up in the camp hitting “refresh refresh refresh” on the NYT site.  When the article finally appeared, 19-year-old Julie (who won Miss Trinity College Dublin this year) used her finest elocution skills to read the article to all assembled.  Then, my “toughest critic” son showed up on the dock sporting an iPad and a big smile.  I knew I was in the clear.

Amy had spared me from myself, this time.

My hair does look sweaty, though.


The Silver Lining Of The Recession: More People Realizing The Basic Truth That You Don’t Need A Lot Of Stuff To Be Happy

The recession continues on with no end in sight, which means that many people who are forced to downgrade their living standards. And what do you know, a lot of people actually are liking this.

As the recent New York Times article "But Will It Make You Happier?" explains in great depth, people who are forced to prioritize their spending from a much limited budget may become more accustomed to spending money on experiences that strengthen relationships rather than accumulating more possessions.

In addition to analyzing the changing spending habits of consumers in the current recession, the article also brings up many salient points on the correlation between your spending habits and your happiness. A lot of this is common sense, and a lot of them are also quite surprising.

Some of the important bullet points: 

– Hedonistic adaption sets in no matter how big or small the purchase. After the initial thrill of retail therapy, even something as monumental as a gorgeous house or a beautiful car, we get used to it.

– Anticipation increases happiness. Booking a flight to Hawaii months ahead increases your anticipatory joy of it, as opposed to booking it the day before. So if you are going to do a big purchase, wait as long as you can stand it if possible.

– Money that is spent on experiences–vacations, wine-tasting classes, concerts–are more likely to make you happier than money that is spent on stuff. The theory is that experiences are oftentimes shared with other people, which strengthens relationships.

– Spending money on many simple pleasures over time will make you happier than using that same money to make one big purchase. If you buy a new Porsche, you will probably be less happier than if you used that same chunk of money to spread it out over the course of the year in many mini-purchases like dining out with friends, going to museums, buying books, treating yourself to nice lattes, buying gifts for friends and going on road trips.

– One common denominator of happy people all across the board, regardless of income: strong relationships.

So what will happen once the recession is over? Will people remember the lessons they’ve learned during the big economic crunch, or will people resort to their old spending habits of accumulating more? 

Here is to hoping that the current economic crisis will build a foundation for a new normal where happiness comes from relationships, not stuff. It’s about time.

PHOTO (cc): Flickr / rocket ship

When Even Amazing Parenting Isn’t Enough: Are Some Kids Doomed To Be Jerks No Matter What?

Currently ranked as the most e-mailed article in New York Times at this moment, "Accepting That Good Parents May Plant Bad Seeds" made for a melancholy read this morning. Citing anecdotal examples of parents who have done everything they could to improve the behavior of insensitive, emotionally distant or socially withdrawn children, the author poses a charged question that most of us are afraid to ask: are some kids genetically hardwired to be insensitive jerks no matter how much the parents do to raise the child otherwise? 

There’s the story of the 40-year-old mother who is constantly anxious, depressed and angry about the insensitive and mean nature of her 17-year-old son who has gone through many therapy and counseling sessions, and is in sharp constrast to her other well-adjusted children. Or the father whose 35-year-old adult son refuses to answer phone calls and e-mails even when the son’s mother was gravelly ill.

I am sure all of us can also think of several personal examples where in spite of the emotionally stable, hard-working and loving parents’ best efforts, a child unfortunately grows up to be a not-so-nice human being. 

As author Dr. Richard A. Friedman goes on to say in his piece: 

We marvel at the resilient child who survives the most toxic parents and home environment and goes on to a life of success. Yet the converse — the notion that some children might be the bad seeds of more or less decent parents — is hard to take.

It goes against the grain not just because it seems like such a grim and pessimistic judgment, but because it violates a prevailing social belief that people have a nearly limitless potential for change and self-improvement. After all, we are the culture of Baby Einstein, the video product that promised — and spectacularly failed — to make geniuses of all our infants.

Not everyone is going to turn out to be brilliant — any more than everyone will turn out nice and loving. And that is not necessarily because of parental failure or an impoverished environment. It is because everyday character traits, like all human behavior, have hard-wired and genetic components that cannot be molded entirely by the best environment, let alone the best psychotherapists.

As a non-parent, I cannot even imagine the sheer mental and physical toil that goes into the lifelong commitment of parenting. The heartbreak of doing everything I possibly can to raise a child only to have him or her turn out to be a toxic person in adulthood–imcomprehensible.

To imply that the best parenting and counseling techniques sometimes aren’t enough to improve the moral character of a growing human being is tantamount to sacrilege for many people. But for some parents, accepting that fact is the only way they could achieve some peace of mind.

Parenting has its many myths, and I hope this article will ease the burden of many well-intending parents who have done everything in their power to improve the lives of their own children and are racked by guilt of what they have not done enough.

On another mundane note–more than ever, I am pretty stoked that I still have some awesome childless years ahead of me to enjoy before I have to start worrying about any of this.

PHOTO (cc): Flickr / virgomerry


Toxins and Autism

In a recent article, New York Times syndicated columnist Nicholas D. Kristof asks the question, “Do toxins cause autism?” Many of us assisting families contending with this now common disorder believe they are a contributory factor. Philip Landrigan, MD, pediatrician, and renowned epidemiologist at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine concurs. In the peer-reviewed Current Opinion in Pediatrics, he states that the “likelihood is high” that many chemicals have the potential to cause injury to the developing brain. 
In my book, EnVISIONing a Bright Future: Interventions that Work for Children and Adults on the Autism Spectrum, I devote a chapter to the concept of “total load theory:” how the cumulative effect of toxins and other factors add up to the eventual diagnosis of autism. The accumulation of chemicals, heavy metals, sensory assaults or deprivation, and immune system stressors can produce a dangerous overload that puts our children at risk for health and developmental problems.
Total Load Starts Pre-Natally
Environmental factors begin adding up pre-natally. For about 25 years, more or less, a woman builds up her personal body burden. According to a Swedish study, she dumps 75% of her toxic load into her baby.[1] That’s why so many women experience first pregnancy miscarriages: nature’s way of detoxing her body, and at the same time, assuring a healthy baby for the next pregnancy. 
What happens if that first pregnancy is viable? That baby is born, not with a zero toxic load, but with toxic levels already approaching its body’s threshold. Many of these firstborn children, mostly boys, are born with toxic levels of mercury and other dangerous substances.  
Where Do Toxins Come From?
Kristof cites medications as a source of toxins, with a disproportionate number of children with autism experiencing exposure in the womb to sedatives, ulcer drugs and valproic acid, an anticonvulsant. Other sources are ubiquitous; chemicals called phthalates are found in personal care products like perfumes, shampoos and cosmetics, and plastics containing harmful substances. 
What about Vaccines?
Recent press has convinced many that vaccines are not implicated in autism. However, in addition to pathogens in immunizations, these “shots” contain many harmful chemicals, albeit in “trace” amounts, used to potentiate the vaccine and encourage a stronger immune system response. Some of these chemicals are known toxins, such as aluminum, formaldehyde and propylene glycol. With most children now receiving over 30 injections by age two, these “trace” amounts add up and cannot be discounted as part of the “total load.”
The Degree of Overload Determines a Diagnosis
The timing and number of total load factors is directly proportionate to the severity of a diagnosis. Kristof states that fetuses seem most vulnerable to chemicals in the first trimester of pregnancy. We also see that children exposed soon after birth, also appear most affected. With early and multiple factors, a child is more likely to become autistic. Fewer and later factors might result in learning, behavioral and sensory motor delays, with diagnoses such as pervasive developmental disorders, learning disabilities and attention deficits.
Precaution and Prevention are the Best Plan
Did you know that fewer than one percent of the 80,000 chemicals registered in the United States have been safety tested? Kristof calls our children “test subjects.” Until legislation is passed to strengthen the Toxic Substances Control Act, future generations will continue to be harmed. The Environmental Working Group, a DC-based research organization headed by Ken Cook, is urging anyone interested in protecting our children to sign on to the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act. Until we clean up toxins in our food, air and water, we will continue to see a rise in autism incidence.

[1] Darnerud PA, Eriksen,GS, Johannesson T, Larsen PB et.al. Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs): Occurrence, Dietary Exposure, and Toxicology. Environmental Health Perspectives, 109, Supplement 1, 2001 Mar: 49-68.

Kristof Sees Power in Women

Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wu Dunn have a new book- Half the Sky.  They hit at the power of women in the developing world to address global woes- security, economics, health, illiteracy, and more.  Essentially, the tag line is: help a woman, help humanity.

Last month, the NYTimes ran a special NYT magazine devoted to Half the Sky.   You can read it in depth here:


And because I’ve had the fortune of meeting remarkable women through my work in public health and microfinance, I wrote a piece on the book for a LA-area newspaper (below).

Plus, if you haven’t heard of Girl Effect, watch this two minute presentation.  It hits at the core of Kristof and Wu Dunn’s book.  You won’t be disappointed!


I went to an all-girls school for six years. Some would describe that as an inconvenience.

I think a better definition would be- it’s a rarity.

As a high school student, I didn’t necessarily grasp that. A school designed solely for educating girls- didn’t seem so unusual or noteworthy. Not till you learn about the plight of girls worldwide.

That’s the crux of Nicholas Kristof’s new book Half the Sky, the title alluding to a Chinese proverb signifying that women hold up half the sky- something even echoed by Communist leader Mao Zedong in the early 1960s. Zedong defined women as an “important force in production” thereby allowing them to join the workforce. In this book, Kristof and his wife Sheryl WuDunn, a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist as well, explore what they first negated as a ‘soft issue’ with a new-found gravity.

Though women ought to account for half the world’s population, if not more considering that women live longer lives, they’re outnumbered by men. Education, economics, health, and culture explain the gaps.

Approximately one in four girls in a developing nation doesn’t make it to the classroom. Rather many are married; one in seven girls marry before 15 in these countries. Early marriage then correlates with few chances of economic independence and even a higher risk of being beaten and abused by spouses. Plus, a cultural preference for male children, especially in Asia, has led mothers to abort female babies.

Suppose, though, if those women had made it to a classroom instead.

That’s what policy advisers are beginning to contemplate. Women’s issues is not a feminist fight or a gender war. Women are a security concern- their safety and development defines our collective well-being.

The most significant political gesture has been the inception of a new post at the State Department- Ambassador-At-Large for Global Woman’s Issues, granted to Melanne Verveer by President Obama this year. By making Verveer part of the State Department and not USAID, the administration took a ‘development’ topic, or a ‘soft issue,’ generally relegated to aid organizations and NGOs, and planted it in the middle of critical foreign policy discussions. The UN has followed suit. This September, they announced the creation of a UN agency solely for women. Clearly, policy experts are beginning to grasp the magnitude of this idea.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, herself an advocate of microfinance and women’s empowerment, just traveled through Asia and Africa, noting the different obstacles facing women in each region- poor maternal health, lack of finances, rape, etc. In India, she met with SEWA- Self-Employed Women’s Association- stressing economic independence in a country that’s granted women political rights but failed to fully integrate them into the workforce. In Congo, she met with rape victims in Goma and called for arrests and penalties for the sexual violence incurred on these women.

The key now is to turn this rhetoric and recognition into action.

In July, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee issued The Foreign Assistance Revitalization and Accountability Act, which will scrutinize our aid system and asses the effectiveness of foreign aid; this is aid that trickles into contentious regions of the world, places where schools lack teachers, books, even students and clinics are sullied, without clean water, proper medical equipment.

One suggestion- invest more in the girls of these conflict areas. Send them to school. Offer them a financial education. Instruct them about their own health and sanitation. They’ll learn. But they’ll also teach- free of cost- to their families. It’s a cycle in need of a propeller.

In Half the Sky, Kristof and WuDunn write, “In many poor countries, the greatest unexploited resource isn’t oil fields or veins of gold; it is the women and girls who aren’t educated and never become a major presence in the formal economy.” A wasted asset, you could say.

While in India doing polio work earlier this year, I met a gentleman who runs a small school for the children of rickshaw-pullers and maids- people whose jobs are arduous but their wages, meager, leaving little for the luxuries of an education.  He offers one year of free tranining in the local language to the children of these workers.  Literacy, not primary education, is his objective.  One year of Hindi- that’s it.  Sounds mediocre.

Then, he told me- leaning out from a metal sheet, sitting haphazardly above the class of children, protecting them from the intense heat- that one year means she can read a bus schedule, she can travel a little further from her home, she can get a job.Reading a sign- that’s her freedom and empowerment.

Imagine if she’d seen my high school classroom and the piles of books we lugged around from class to class drudgingly.

Literacy, though, extends beyond books to financial knowledge, provided by microfinance institutions (MFIs), and even maternal health education.  During that same trip, I also learned of a team of women, who themselves come from threadbare homes, yet travel India’s rural communities to offer prenatal and postnatal care to village mothers.  ASHA workers, or Accredited Social Health Activists- their task is tiresome but critical in addressing infant mortality, early childbirths, and pregnancy-related deaths.  In the postnatal phase, they also educate parents on immunizations for the newborn and the need for better sanitation to avoid illness.

Women assisting other women and contributing to their community: that’s a smart investment.

So, instead of mulling over the endless statics of disfranchised women worldwide, which are grim and disturbing, we can begin taking a critical look at where best to our channel our funds for prosperity and security.  If it goes to a girl in the developing world, it’ll destroy the roots of belligerent acts, prevent the folly of illiteracy, alleviate the trappings of poor health, and augment the forecast of economic development.

As Kristof said in a recent interview, “Women are not the problem. Women are the solution.”

original source: http://www.venturacountystar.com/news/2009/oct/04/investing-in-girls-and-women-pays-off-in/

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...