Half the Sky
By : Thea La Grou
(Photos by Anna Schwaber and Yan Seiler) Today we celebrate International Women's Day. Although much progress has been made, women and girls still represent 70 percent of the poorest and most vulnerable people on earth.

More and more, groups and organziations are realizing that gender equality is pivotal to human progress and sustainable development. Economic growth continues to bolster gender equality, but still, it is a drop in the bucket in terms of world needs. None of the Millennium Development Goals can be achieved without addressing deeply rooted gender inequality, as each goal is directly or indirectly tied to women's equal rights.

Most of the world's greatest humanitarian needs and horrific injustices involve the discrimination and exploitation of women. Violence, prostitution, maternal mortality, and trafficking, for starters, are not considered "feminist" or "women's issues" but humanitarian and human rights issues that deeply affect us all. Now, a global and cultural consensus is starting to mount that has the potential to exonerate women from centuries of oppression. Pulitzer Prize-winning author and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn,a former Times reporters, recent book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide sees the treatment of women in developing countries as the great story and moral issue of this century.

Greg Mortenson, 2009 Noble Peace Price Nominee and best selling author of Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace -One School at a Time and Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, asserts that women will become the solution to many of the world's most ethical and economically pressing problems.

Krisof and Mortenson agree that the best way to fight poverty and extremism is to educate and empower women and girls. Both authors are initiating movements to fight global poverty by unlocking women's power as economic catalysts. The Half the Sky movement lays out an agenda for the world's women and three major abuses: sex trafficking and forced prostitution; gender-based violence including honor killings and mass rape; maternal mortality, which needlessly claims one woman a minute.

Women in the developed world can dream and achieve anything - from running for highest office, being CEO of a Fortune 500, to being commanding officer of the NASA space station or space shuttle. Due to lingering pay unfairness and inequality in corporate America, women are starting new businesses at twice the average rate of men. According to the Center for Women's Business Research, as of 2008, 10.1 million firms are owned by women (75% or more), employing more than 13 million people, and generating $1.9 trillion in sales.

Experts predict that as women continue to gain in the current economy's growing industries, that they will soon outnumber men in the work force, and, that women are now poised to drive the post-recession world economy thanks to an estimated $5 trillion in female -earned income that will be coming on line over the next five years. Women also control 83% spending in the US and some $12 trillion of the global $18.4 trillion in annual consumer spending which is expected to rise.
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