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New series explores how to fight gender oppression at home and abroad

Journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn have exposed widespread problems of abuse, sex trafficking and violence against women in Africa and Asia. Now they also bring their focus home, shining a light on the ways American women are commonly hurt, deprived and exploited. Jeffrey Brown talks to them about their new book and documentary series on PBS, “A Path Appears.”

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    In a new report out today, the United Nations documents how girls simply trying to go to school face threats and violent attack in 70 countries.

    That tracks with the stories on display in a PBS documentary series that ends tonight. “A Path Appears” expands that scope to explore violence against women more broadly and what can be done about it.

    Jeffrey Brown has our conversation.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn are well-known for their work on these subjects. Their prior collaboration, “Half the Sky,” first a book and then a series, took viewers around Africa and Asia.

    This time, they have co-authored the book “A Path Appears,” which focuses on problems such as sex trafficking and abuse, including in this country. It’s also led to a series that’s been shown on PBS’ “Independent Lens.”  The latest episode airs tonight.

    Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn join me now from New York.

    And, Nick Kristof, let me start with you.

    One thing you have done in this series is put a spotlight on abuses here at home. Was that a particular concern, to bring it home, so to speak?

  • NICHOLAS KRISTOF, Co-Author, “A Path Appears”:

    Yes, it was.

    “Half the Sky” focused on women’s rights abroad. And people kept asking us, well, what about the U.S.?  And that seemed a fair question. The atrocities in many ways are worse in Afghanistan or Yemen, but we have real problems right here.

    And it seemed to us that while the discussion about gender inequity in this country is often about pay equity or about representation of women in Congress or on boards, that really the two massive issues are sex trafficking — 100,000 underaged girls trafficked a year into the sex trade — and likewise domestic violence, three women every day killed by their domestic partners.

    And, Sheryl, Sheryl WuDunn, were there common threads that you found for how girls and young women came into this world?

  • SHERYL WUDUNN, Co-Author, “A Path Appears”:

    There certainly are common threads, how girls are abused here at home, trafficked.

    We often think of trafficking as girls from abroad brought here to the U.S. But actually there are runaway girls who are found at the bus station or the railroad station, and they are just coaxed into a relationship with a pimp and then they are forced into prostitution. So it happens a little bit differently, but the result is the same, that these girls are forced into prostitution as well.

    But there are solutions. And that’s in part why we wrote “A Path Appears,” because we saw solutions bubbling up everywhere.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Let’s look at a short clip.

    Nick Kristof, tell us a little bit this. It’s a young woman in Atlanta, right?

  • NICHOLAS KRISTOF:

    That’s right, a young women named Antonia in Atlanta. She had been in a long-term relationship with a man who brutally beat her up repeatedly. And, finally, she decided that she was going to stay alive only if she fled with her children to this shelter.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    OK. Let’s take a look.

  • WOMAN:

    How old are your kids?

  • ANTONIA:

    Ten, 7 and 4.

  • WOMAN:

    All girls?

  • ANTONIA:

    Yes.

  • WOMAN:

    Oh, lovely.

  • ANTONIA:

    But I love this place. I think it saved me. A lot of females do die. And they stick around. And I made that choice to leave.

  • NICHOLAS KRISTOF:

    So, right now, he’s charged with beating you up when…

  • ANTONIA:

    Yes.

  • NICHOLAS KRISTOF:

    … when you were in the shelter. But, before that, he had abused you, which led you to run away to the shelter, I guess.

    So, what had he done?

  • ANTONIA:

    When he put his — when I had to end up in the hospital, that’s when I went to a shelter.

    All them year, I was just sitting there and letting him — well, he used to tie me up, put me, leave me in the closet, do mean things to me, tell me nobody loves me. You know, he had jumped on me. He had choked me. Even it was one situation where he was choking me so bad that my older daughter had had to jump on his back to get him off of me.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Sheryl WuDunn, you were talking about solutions. That’s the idea of the path, right?  It’s a path forward?

  • SHERYL WUDUNN:

    Absolutely. A path appears…

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Yes, give us an example.

  • SHERYL WUDUNN:

    Well, there are a number of ways that we can actually address change, specifically when it comes to challenges like trafficking.

    You need a comprehensive solution. There’s woman, Becca Stevens, who was in Nashville, Tennessee. And she has raised money for safe houses. And she puts eight women or so in each house. They learn to live together. They basically take two years to detox and to adjust into a new life in normal society, and then she trains them for jobs.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    What’s your sense, both of you?  Let me start with you, Nick. What’s your sense of the awareness of these kinds of problems, whether it is at home or abroad?  How much do you have to still convince people of the problem?

  • NICHOLAS KRISTOF:

    I think that is a huge problem.

    I think that it’s very easy for those who have made it to construct a narrative in which those who are suffering are to blame for their own problems, and, you know, this notion of personal irresponsibility as being the all and end-all of poverty and disadvantage.

    And we hope that by putting a human face on some these challenges, by humanizing them, we can help push back at that and underscore that, sure, there is a certain amount of personal irresponsibility there, but there also is an awful lot of kids who desperately need help, who didn’t do anything wrong.

    And it’s a certain amount of social irresponsibility on the part of all of us if we don’t use the evidence-based solutions to try to give them a chance to get to the starting line.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Do you have an example that you want to share of that?

  • NICHOLAS KRISTOF:

    Sure.

    I think one of the lessons of the past is that our efforts against poverty haven’t been more successful in this country and abroad because they often start too late. It’s an awful lot easier to help a 6-month-old than it is a struggling 16-year-old and a lot cheaper.

    In the documentary, we saw a 4-year-old kid who can’t speak because he didn’t get a hearing screening in West Virginia. And so, as his brain is developing, he’s not getting that auditory stimulation. It’s not clear he ever will speak. That is — we let him slip through the cracks. And he is not going to be a fully productive citizen because we blew it on our watch with something as simple as a hearing screening.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    You know, these books and the documentaries, Sheryl, they are on pretty dark subjects, but it sounds as though you two remain optimists?

  • SHERYL WUDUNN:

    Well, we are very optimistic, partly because we have seen so many people engage in solutions.

    So, for instance, early childhood education, Nick actually talked — touched on it when he mentioned this little boy, whose name was Johnny. In fact, there are evidence-based solutions that researchers have conducted, randomized control trials. They have actually gone and figured out what strategy works best.

    And they realize that now, starting with basically when the baby is in the womb, teaching, basically coaching parents on how to raise their kids. Don’t smoke, don’t drink. And then, when the baby is born, read to the baby, talk to the baby, hug and kiss the baby. And that is so critical because the brain is transforming its most dramatically in that early phase of life from basically zero to 5 years of age.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    All right, “A Path Appears.”

    Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, thank you both very much.

  • NICHOLAS KRISTOF:

    Thank you, Jeff.

  • SHERYL WUDUNN:

    Thank you, Jeff.

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