I was reading Half the Sky, the 2009 book about the state of women in the world earlier this year. When I read the part about maternal mortality, and exactly how preventable these deaths are and how many happen, I put the book down, squeezed me eyes shut, and said a silent prayer that some day, one day, I could do something to help the lonely women ostracized by their communities, curled up in their shacks, soaking in their own urine and feces and waiting - perhaps praying - to die. Well, that day has come. I can do something small, which is to urge you to buy and watch the Half the Sky documentary DVD when it is released by Amazon on October 20th. Two respected journalists and authors - Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn - have selected oppression of women worldwide as the single most important issue of the 21st century. What's exciting is that the book and the documentary are so well done in terms of production quality and research that there's a lot of positive attention on this issue and I think we as a world can make amazing progress within our lifetimes.
Curious about some statistics?
Here you go:
- 99 percent of all maternal deaths occur in the developing world.
- The U.S. ratio of maternal deaths is higher than 40 other countries, despite spending more per capita on maternal care than any other country.
- More than 1 million children a year are left motherless due to maternal mortality.
- 135 million girls living today have undergone female genital mutilation, greatly increasing their risk of maternal mortality.
So you see that this isn't just an issue "abroad," but at home in the U.S. too. Maternal mortality is just one cause of many highlighted in the book - there are other issues we can help with, mostly by talking about them and being aware of them, although giving money helps to0 , as does writing letters.
When I was a little girl, and I'd complain about how "unfair" something was, my dad would smile and say "You know what? Life isn't fair. If it was, you'd probably be sitting on the ground in Africa with no legs because an old landmine blew them off."
In addition to being a man who can create an unsettling image with just a few words and a knowing smile, Dad was right. Life isn't fair. He'd seen enough as a doctor to know that. But I didn't really understand what he meant by what he said. How could I? I had never seen anyone who was very poor, injured, or oppressed.
Here, I've witnessed it for myself. I've seen children joyfully gathered around what gives them life - yellow dirty plastic jugs of clean-ish drinking water. I've see women who haven't had the opportunity, freedom, education, or diversity of experience to know they don't have to put up with polygamy or body shrouding. Perhaps saddest of all, I've seen men who don't have the blessing of free, spirited, educated, irrepressible women in their lives. Every day that I walk in Palestine, I see them, men on whose faces there's a story written about their hunger - their hunger for the other half of the sky. Of course there are many enlightened, egalitarian men here in the Middle East, and I'm thankful for them. They will teach their sons and daughters and continue the progress that is happening here.
I'm writing this blog because there's so much beyond where our eyes can touch, and I want to help others - and myself - see these far away things and wake up. I write about lust - wanderlust, lust for life, lust for a better world. Lust is not a bad or sinful thing, and there's no evil in the human heart - just reactions that either hurt or help people. All that's necessary to live a good life is to wake up (also known as learn, be present, be enlightened, be aware, be here) in this present moment and to form each action so that, whenever possible, we are helping ourselves and others- not hurting either party. In fact, people should party more. More parties, and less explosions, is my prescription for the Middle East and for humankind.
I was trying to party through the pain here this weekend. Charming and I were taking a trip to Tel Aviv to celebrate our six month wedding anniversary (I know, I can't believe it's been six months either). We were stuck in traffic on our way to an infamous checkpoint. I was driving, and decided, perhaps unwisely, that to express my frustration I was going to yell. I announced to my Prince that I was going to yell in the style of men who yell barely intelligible things to women from the safety and comfort of their cars. "Uooo Lips!" I yelled to one man in a car as he cut me off. "Uck my Deeee!" I yelled to another. Charming was rather entertained, and so was I. I continued, with an "OO you so beautiful!" to a man walking on the side of the road. I felt I had pushed it a little far. Yelling at cars was one thing, but yelling at some poor car-less soul breathing the traffic fumes? It was a little much. I stopped.
We arrived at the bottleneck that is Qalandia checkpoint. Very quickly, we realized the lane I was in was behind a massive bus. It would take forever for the soldiers to check every single passport in the slow and ponderous way they go about that task. So I tried to switch to the next lane over. I made eye contact with a car with two men in it. They motioned to the spot in front of them with a smile that seemed to say "Go head." I fluttered my eyelashes in thanks. As soon as there was a gap in front of them, they gunned it and took up the space, almost hitting my car. Undeterred, I tried the car behind them, making eye contact with the female driver of a white car packed full of veiled women. They gestured angrily, making it clear that I was not going to get into their lane. Well, at least they weren't effing with me like the last car.
I tried a few more times, until the cars behind me were getting angry at the space growing in front of me. I zoomed ahead, only to wait and wait while the soldiers made everyone on the bus ahead of us get off and walk through the checkpoint. Soon the white car full of women passed us. In my frustration, I stuck my hand, palm up, out of the window and yelled, "You are so beautiful!"
I couldn't help but smile as realized how silly I was acting - and how silly the moment was. I saw their faces go from bored and frustrated, to confused, to broadly smiling - even the grandmother in the back gave me the most twinkly and crinkly of grins.
Suddenly, they were all so very beautiful. They waved, and all of us were laughing together.
The pain and frustration of oppressed women - whether it's traffic that's oppressing them or the patriarchy - can shift. It can turn into something positive.
I'm really lucky to be married to someone who helps the less fortunate of the world in a very active, full-time way. However, he can only do that through the support of people who live comfortably far away and donate a little money to organizations like his. So there's no hierarchy of who is helping the world more - someone on the ground in Gaza, giving a tank of clean water to people trapped there, or someone who donates a few bucks a month to a high quality charity that helps out. If everyone on Earth would take one, small, tiny action, then we could solve all the problems described in Half the Sky.
What action do you want to take right now?
Probably you want to turn on a mindless TV show and eat chocolate, and try to forget about the poor women and children of the world. Me too. That's normal and fine, actually. Just donate your ten bucksbefore the chocolate fest, and you can feel good (extra special good) about the world while you watchModern Family.
One last note - if you liked this post and think it could inspire anyone, you can take the action of reposting it to your blog or facebook or twitter.
Thank you darling friend!
YOU ARE SO BEAUTIFUL.