Thursday, October 14, 2010

What I'm Reading

As a result of my new job, I’ve become immersed in women’s economic issues. I’ve been spending a lot of time reading reports over at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women and the UN Development Fund for Women, as well as reading about the UN’s Millenium Goal #3, Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women. The one thing that has stuck with me the most, and what I often find myself waking up at 3 am to think about, is this little gem:

Women perform 66 percent of the world’s work, produce 50 percent of the food, but earn 10 percent of the income and own 1 percent of the property.


Sometimes I get so self-absorbed in my own little dramas (usually self-induced) that I forget to stop and think about how privileged I am in the grand scheme of things: I’m a white, well-educated American with a full-time job in a heated/air conditioned office, whose idea of being oppressed is not being able to afford to go back to school and get a second master’s degree. (And I probably *could* afford it if I gave up discretionary things like guitar lessons, cable TV, yarn, and fabric.)

Further fueling my fire: I stumbled across the book “Half The Sky”, written by two (married) Pulitzer-prize winning journalists. It’s all about how women across the globe are being oppressed (though truly, “oppressed” seems too sanitized a word for what is going on out there). I’m telling you: if you are a woman, or if you have a mother or a daughter or an aunt or a sister or a niece, you have to read this book. It is at once heartrendingly depressing and oddly hopeful, impossible to read and impossible to put down. By page three of the introduction I was in tears (and truthfully, there were a few sections that were too difficult for me to read and I skipped over them; I can be unreasonably squeamish). [Also, let me just say I completely disagree with the Amazon commenters who claim the book is anti-conservative; I personally found it quite balanced. Yes, the authors criticize abstinence-only programs but also give props to a school in India heavily supported by the Catholic Church. Continuing to frame these issues in a western political context is part of the problem, which the authors address early on in the book.]

I’ll warn you, though, that I think it would be hard for anyone with half a conscious to read this book and NOT want to take some sort of action. I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to do myself. On the plus side, I work for a nonprofit that helps low-income women start their own businesses, so in theory every day I go to work is a contribution. And there are plenty of other organizations I can contribute to financially (and there is an extensive list here). But there’s an itching to do something more, and I’m not sure what that it is. I can tell something is percolating, though, as evidenced by the 3 am wake ups. Plus, a good part of this year was focused on my Happiness Project, and while that’s been a valuable experience I’m thinking that the next thing is to focus on something external. (As Gretchen Rubin points out, making others happy makes you happy.) Stay tuned…

Also, on a completely different note: for you fellow cat people out there, make sure you read this.

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