Nicholas Kristof spoke to a packed Town Hall in Seattle last night. Kristof, for those who don’t know, is a columnist for the New York Times and has won two Pulitzer Prizes in his lifetime: one, in 1990, for his coverage of the Tiananmen Square uprising , and one  in 2006 for his coverage on the genocide in Darfur.

Having read his columns for several years, I was excited to hear him speak on the new book he co-wrote with his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, called Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity Worldwide. Kristof very simply spelled out the most pressing problem facing the world today by stating:

The paramount moral challenge of the 19th century was slavery.
Of the 20th century, totalitarianism.
Of the 21st century…..gender equality.

He then asked the audience whether we thought there were more females or males alive in the world today. About 90% of the room voted that there are more females .Turns out, we were wrong. In the United States, this holds true, but worldwide there are significantly less women than men.

He went on to say that, not only are there less women – they are missing women. Approximately 60-100 million of them.

  • Missing because of sex selective abortion prominent throughout parts of Asia.
  • Missing because of preferential medical treatment given to boys instead of girls.  
  • Missing because mothers are more likely, when food supply is scarce, to feed their sons than their daughters.
  • Missing because, in many countries, girls aren’t seen as worthy of equal education opportunities, are often forced to marry extremely young – and frequently die during childbirth as a result.

As a good journalist does, Kristof then back his claims in the form of gut-wrenching stories, pictures, and tales from his world travels (over 140 countries) and gave a voice to these missing women.  

However, what is most impressive about listening to Kristof speak, or reading his writing, is not the firsthand accounts of poverty, war, disease,  that he has seen time and time again. Nearly anyone who has spent time in the developing world can tell you those.  What is impressive is his deeply embedded sense of hope – paired with a call to action for the West to mobilize around the issue of poverty. The most effective way to do this, he claims, is by educating the world’s women, and allowing them to reach their full potential as equally valued members of society.

To learn more, visit

– Kate // Operations Director at ODW