Nicholas Kristof to Students: Travel, Get Out of Comfort ZoneSeptember 17, 2012
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof recently spoke to American University students about the Half the Sky Movement. Based on his 2009 book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, the movement uses media and education tools to spread the message that empowering women is the key to alleviating global poverty.
Kristof told the overflowing room of attendees that gender inequity is the “cause of your times” — the “central moral challenge” faced not only by millennials but also the global population at large. The recent release of new U.S. Census Bureau poverty figures supports this claim — American women in 2011 experienced a poverty rate that was nearly notably higher than adult men, a trend that has occurred every year since official poverty measurement began in the 1960s. Globally, women make up 70 percent of the world’s poorest people.
“But what can I do?”
This was the resounding question posed by AU students following Kristof’s stories of the high rates of sexual violence, human trafficking, and gender discrimination experienced by women both in the United States and abroad. His response was straight and to the point — travel. “You can read about [poverty], but it only becomes real when you see it,” he said.
While this advice is great if you can afford it, many young people don’t have much disposable income. In July, the unemployment rate for Americans ages 16–24 stood at a whopping 17 percent, or nearly one in five. What’s more, the new census figures show that the number of Americans living in poverty remains at its highest level since 1993 with 15 percent of the population living under the poverty line in 2011. The rates for black and Hispanic Americans were nearly twice as high. And while the census regrettably does not track lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender populations, these rates could be equally dismal. The bottom line is that with the average cost of study abroad at an astounding $31,270 — which is over 60 percent of the median family income in 2011 — travelling the world isn’t economically viable for many millenials and their families.
Fortunately, Kristof had advice for the budget-conscious among us. He noted that travel close to home and even within one’s community might be enough to help young people “build new muscles” that they couldn’t get from a college classroom — at least for those lucky enough to afford access to a college classroom. Kristof suggested that students visit domestic prisons and disadvantaged schools to “get out of their comfort zones” and acquire the “sense of bewilderment” that spurs action.
In the meantime, AAUW will sponsor two more D.C., screenings of Kristof’s upcoming PBS Half the Sky documentary. For those of you on a recession-sized budget — the screenings are free! — you can learn more about the Half the Sky Movement at the D.C. Hill Center at 7 p.m. on Monday, September 17, or at Busboys and Poets at 5 p.m. on September 30.