The Daily Gamecock

Sheryl WuDunn discusses gender inequality

WuDunn: 'The central moral challenge of our time is gender inequality'

Sheryl WuDunn is a banker who is using her knowledge in business and emerging markets for the power of good.

Wednesday's lecture, cosponsored by USC and Columbia College, centered on increasing the opportunities available to women in Third World countries.

"The central moral challenge of our time is gender inequality," WuDunn said.

Before pursuing a career in banking, WuDunn received the Pulitzer Prize with her husband Nicholas Kristof for their coverage of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 for The New York Times. She was the first Asian-American to receive the award.

Starting in Tiananmen Square, WuDunn wove together the stories of women who were given access to education and work — opportunities that changed their lives.

Sima is one of them.

She was beaten daily by her husband in rural Pakistan, and after the birth of their second daughter, Sima's mother-in-law suggested her son break off the marriage.

But Sima's bleak situation was brightened by a $65 loan from a local microlending company. Sima used the loan to acquire materials for embroidery — one of the few skills she had gained without an education. Her embroidery was sold at market and her business quickly grew. Sima went on to employ 30 women in the village and eventually hired her husband to transport the embroideries to market.

"When your wife provides the bread, it's okay not to beat your wife," her mother-in-law later said.

WuDunn has applied her experience from working as a vice president at Goldman Sachs to use business to empower women and jump-start small economies.

She cited microlending in Pakistan and a mobile payment system in Kenya as success stories of economies built from the ground up.

"I tend to focus on sustainable models," WuDunn said. "I think charities are wonderful, but I also think it's very important to create a sustainable model, so women can create their own livelihoods and don't need to rely on handouts."

She's dubbed that model the 'virtuous cycle,' replacing the vicious cycle of poverty and inequality that women face around the world.

Although WuDunn focused on gender inequality abroad, she was quick to point out problems at home.

"A lot of these problems overseas have migrated back here such as sex trafficking," WuDunn said.

Unbeknownst to WuDunn, South Carolina bill H. 3757 was introduced to the state House of Representatives in February to expand the definition and punishments for human sex trafficking. The bill was referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

Yasmin Mwamba, a senior at Spring Valley High School, asked, "How early is too early to learn about these things?"

Mwamba began outreach of her own after being inspired by WuDunn's book, "Half the Sky," which WuDunn described as a "do-it-yourself foreign aid tool kit."

Mwamba started speaking to other high school students about gender inequality and plans to speak at middle schools next year. Mwamba and her friends raised $5,000 for charities addressing the issue.

The majority of the audience was faculty from both USC and Columbia College, but the students that did attend enjoyed the talk.

"I was really surprised that she as wasn't publicized as others who weren't as prominent, but I'm really glad I came," said Amit Bilgi, a first-year finance major.