Journalist discusses poverty and gender

Ruby Wallau/Daily
Pulitzer Prize winner Sheryl WuDunn speaks about her novel Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide during the Women and Economic Security Conference at Rackham Auditorium on Wednesday. Buy this photo

By Margo Levy, For the Daily
Published May 14, 2014

Over 100 people gathered at Rackham Auditorium Wednesday evening to hear Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Sheryl WuDunn’s take on women’s poverty as part of the Women and Economic Security Conference.

WuDunn shared her experiences traveling to some of the world’s most impoverished places, and detailed what she discovered to be poverty’s worst effects. She said she believes the oppression of women is a dire issue worldwide, which results in problems including a lack of education, sex trafficking and maternal mortality, among others.

By providing the audience with names and pictures of people affected by these challenges, WuDunn grounded her talk in the people she’s met and place she’s experienced around the world.

WuDunn displayed a photo of a group of young girls — all victims of sex trafficking — that she met during her time in Cambodia while discussing a challenge she said she equates to modern day slavery.

“They are forced to work 14 hour days, seven days a week and they are not paid a dime,” WuDunn said. “What does that sound like? Slavery.”

While WuDunn said she does not necessarily have a solution for the problems she discovered, she hopes that by spreading awareness, more people will feel inclined to get involved.

WuDunn’s keynote address was part of a conference presented by the University’s Center for the Education of Women and Re:Gender, an organization formerly called the National Council for Research on Women. Her talk concluded the first day of a three-day conference, which aims to identify and discuss barriers for impoverished women seeking financial security.

Gloria Thomas, CEW director, said the conference was intended to be a catalyst for discussion among students and faculty regarding poverty and its implications worldwide.

“For this initiative and this week’s related conference, CEW is serving as the convener of scholars, activists, social service agencies and their clients living in poverty, policy makers and other interested parties who are committed to establishing policy recommendations at the state level to help women,” Thomas said.

Though University students may never witness these atrocities firsthand, She added that it’s important they have an understanding of their existence and what can be done.

“While WuDunn’s talk (had) an international focus — particularly regarding policies and practices to address these issues — the intent is for conference attendees to have a broad understanding of what's being done to eliminate poverty worldwide in order to inspire and enable us all to think globally but act locally.”