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Op-ed: We must act locally and globally to improve women’s lives

First Published      Last Updated Feb 13 2016 09:48 pm

Last week I met with a group of visitors from Indonesia who wanted to learn about the efforts I lead to help women in Utah become more educated, confident and influential. Because of my tight schedule that day, I had them come to my home. And it was there, sitting in my Highland home, that I had a profound moment I will never forget.

Through translators, I presented information about the two statewide efforts that I lead: the Utah Women and Leadership Project and the Utah Women and Education Initiative. I talked about the events we host, our website resources and some of the briefs that are available. I spoke about the importance of helping women become leaders. It all seemed to go well, and they were listening and nodding. After about 45 minutes the questions began. My guests asked deep, thoughtful questions and we had a good discussion.




When it was time to conclude, an Indonesian woman in her early 30s asked the final question: "Dr. Madsen, have you written something that could help me in my work?" I then asked her to tell me more about her job and what specific information she needed. She then described her situation. She said that she often worked in the rural Indonesian islands with groups, tribes and communities. She explained that one of her responsibilities was to work with women or couples who are expecting a child or have recently given birth. She then said this: "Dr. Madsen, have you ever written something that I can use to convince these parents that they shouldn't be sad or angry when they find out they are having a daughter?"

Now, I have read all kinds of books like "Half the Sky" or "The Hillary Doctrine" that talk about the situation of women throughout the world, including shocking and disturbing details about the treatment of girls and women in many countries. I have spoken at events at the United Nations, so I wasn't oblivious to any of this. However, I wasn't prepared for this question. She then said something I will never forget: "The only benefit that some of these parents understand, is that when their daughter is a little older — they can sell her."

Although there was a long pause, I looked around the room and the others did not look surprised. They knew about sex trafficking. Of course I have not written such a piece, so I volunteered to find and send her some information. We were out of time, and they left. I jumped into my car to drive to my next meeting, and after a few minutes the significance of what had just happened hit me to my very core. I had a transformational moment that I would never forget.

Maybe it was so profound because it happened in my own living room. I'm not sure. However, in that moment I realized that I can no longer simply speak and teach about our responsibilities to local and state communities. Girls, boys, women and men everywhere must become educated, confident and influential to be a positive force in the world — at home and abroad. We must embrace our responsibilities as global citizens, and caring about the plight of girls and women worldwide is a crucial part of that.

The task is daunting, and I don't know exactly what my next steps will be, but I resolve to increase my efforts to make a difference in the lives of suffering girls and women worldwide. I hope you will join me in becoming a more engaged global citizen.

Dr. Susan R. Madsen is the Orin R. Woodbury Professor of Leadership and Ethics at Utah Valley University's Woodbury School of Business.

 

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