Last Reviewed on April 28, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 923
American abortion politics, deeply rooted in religion, affect family planning decisions made well beyond domestic borders. The ideological combatants, “secular liberals” and “conservative Christians,” disagree primarily on the contraceptive methods that should be made available to women of childbearing age. This partisan “God Gulf” extends from sex education in schools to the funding of women’s health clinics in some of the poorest, most “marginalized” regions of the world.
Kristof and WuDunn personify the issue in twenty-six-year-old Rose Wanjera, a Kenyan mother who received a prenatal checkup from a refugee clinic supported by Marie Stopes International. Rose was “sick and penniless,” and as she waited to see a doctor, she told the authors that her husband had recently been mauled to death by a pack of wild dogs.
Upon examination, the doctor diagnosed a life-threatening infection and enrolled Rose in an ongoing care program. But she never received the prenatal or intrapartum care she was promised. George W. Bush soon chose to eliminate the funding to Marie Stopes because the foundation had been providing safe abortion services to women in China. As punishment, the entire women’s health consortium lost financial support, and the doctors and nurses who worked in critical care areas—including Rose’s—were laid off.
The authors present statistics showing the efficacy of internationally sponsored women’s health programs throughout the developing world. Contrary to promoting the use of abortion as a primary method of population control, aid organizations like the United Nations family planning division have been able to prevent millions of abortions by advocating for universal contraceptive use among people who wish to avoid unintended pregnancies.
Although there may be “an element of truth” to the conservative, abstinence-only argument that “[making] sex safer also makes it more likely,” teaching young people to use condoms is imperative in the global fight against AIDS. Kristof and WuDunn argue that there should be a bipartisan effort to support programs and methods proven to reduce HIV transmission, including abstinence, condoms, male circumcision, and free screening and treatment for STDs.
In this chapter, Kristof and WuDunn explore whether Islam is inherently misogynistic. “A politically incorrect point must be noted here,” they write, before going on to explain that women are subjected to “systematic abuses,” including honor killing and genital mutilation, far more frequently in countries with “predominantly Muslim” populations. They cite opinion polls that suggest “Muslims in some countries just don’t believe in equality,” as evidenced by their broad support for burkas, polygamy, and dependent roles for women. They counter the argument that it is the culture, not the religion, that has supported a “deeply repressive” attitude, noting that misogyny is often “justified” by quoting the Prophet Muhammad.
Nevertheless, the authors do not believe that Islam is historically misogynistic. Despite myriad examples of human rights violations, there are also many examples of women who are challenging misogynistic attitudes, albeit with varying degrees of success. The authors interview two women at different ends of the spectrum.
Ellaha is an Afghan teenager who is serving an interminable sentence at the Women’s Detention Center in Kabul. She explains that after being raised as a refugee in Iran, where she graduated from high school and had started university, she found it difficult to accept the “rigid Afghan customs” upon her family’s return to Afghanistan. After “[impressing] the managers” of the American construction company where she worked, she was offered a scholarship to a Canadian university, but her family insisted that she remain in Afghanistan and marry her cousin. She tried to run away but was caught, subjected to a “virginity check,” and jailed for her own protection. If Ellaha is released, she fears her father and uncle may kill her.
Sakena Yacoobi is the founder of the Afghan Institute for Learning, an organization dedicated to providing educational and health services throughout Afghanistan. Sakena believes that education will help her country overcome poverty and war, and between her schools and workshops, she has enrolled 350,000 women and children in classes. She implores the international community to change its priorities. “If we took the foreign aid that goes to guns and weapons and just took one quarter of that and put it into education,” she says, “that would completely transform this country.”
As newlyweds in China, Kristof and WuDunn met Dai Manju, a “scrawny thirteen-year-old girl” who lived in a hillside shack two hours from the nearest road. Her family could not afford to pay her school fees, so Dai Manju, “star pupil” of her class, was forced to drop out. The authors wrote an article about her story, and a sympathetic reader soon wired ten thousand dollars for her tuition. In addition to providing scholarships for Dai Manju and other local girls, the principal used the money to build a new school. Kristof called the donor to thank him for his generosity and explain how important his ten thousand dollars had been to the rural Chinese village. The startled donor said there had been a mistake: he donated one hundred dollars, not ten thousand dollars. The bank’s executive agreed to honor the error, which left the villagers “mightily impressed by American generosity—and carelessness.”
International donors gravitate toward prestige projects, but research by leading development economists has shown that it is often the least glamorous interventions that have the greatest effects. Some of the most statistically-significant improvements in cognitive function have come from simple iodine supplementation. Similarly, inexpensive deworming medications have led to marked improvements in school attendance among Kenyan students.
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