Sunday, April 17, 2011

First World Problems

I recently heard the phrase "first world problems" to describe almost every problem you or any of your friends/family have ever had. It describes the kinds of things that I complain about on this blog:
  • disappointing music
  • whether or not to blog about tennis
  • writing challenges
  • my TiVo not recording things I tell it to
These are all first world problems.

They don't quite compare to the kinds of things that people in the third world deal with every day: death, disease, war, starvation, ritual gang rape as punishment.

It's that last thing that struck me as I read Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. This book describes almost every possible example of women being abused, humiliated, and mutilated around the world.

Certain parts of the book made me cringe and put images in my head that I couldn't bear to even think about.

I have a problem thinking about something that happens every day in real life to real people? What a first world wuss I am. For some reason, it's the medical descriptions in the book that cause me the most problems. I'm way too squeamish to ever be a doctor. In particular, I would be happy to never hear the word "fistula" ever again.

The appalling thing I learned from the book is how women are so shockingly undervalued in some parts of the world. The treatment, abuse, and downright inhumanity shown towards women and girls just baffles me. I don't understand how people can be so utterly without compassion. To treat other people like that. I would be disgusted if someone treated a dog like that. Or a spider. And yet these are human beings. And it's not just criminal or deviant behavior within a culture, but a twisted moral code, an extreme view of punishment and justice, that entire villages are complicit in.

As a friend of mine quipped when I told him about it: "It takes a village to rape a child."


The book isn't all about doom and gloom, however. There are some redemptive stories and inspirational successes in the book. The one thing that seems to make all the difference-- the easiest way to make the world an infinitely better place-- is education for girls. The longer a girl stays in school, the less likely she is to be abused (or to tolerate abuse when it happens), the older she is when she gets married, the better medical care she'll receive, the more she can earn money and contribute to the economy, and the less children she will have.

Education for girls appears to have a ripple effect on every part of a culture. They even make a strong case for how it reduces terrorism.

So from now on I'd like to put most of my international aid effort toward helping to educate girls and women in misogynistic cultures. That seems to be the most significant third world problem, and one that takes precedence over whether I find the right pair of tennis shoes.

It is impossible to realize our goals while discriminating against half the human race. As study after study has taught us, there is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women. ---Kofi Annan, former UN General Secretary


Sarah said...

So, I know that what you're saying is deep and meaningful, but the only thing I couls really think of is that I don't really like HD, because it gives me a headache (plus, we can't afford TV); I make it a point to park far away from the door because I sit all day and I need movement; and there is NO SUCH THING as too much goat cheese.

Tim said...

So, Sarah, it sounds like your first world problem is that you don't like examples of first world problems.

Dan S said...

Great post Tim.