Half the Sky Movement Campus Ambassador Program Calls for Action at Home

Encore: September 18, 2012

MetroFocus host Rafael Pi Roman speaks with Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, journalists and co-authors of Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” to discuss how viewers can get involved with the Half the Sky Movement.

From page to screen to college campuses across the country, the team behind the Half the Sky Movement is further broadcasting  its call to action through the Campus Ambassador Program, aimed at raising awareness of international women’s issues among young people. From campus screenings to discussions, the program seeks to inspire action among college students and provide them with the resources they need to take the first step towards ending violence against women and girls.

The Half the Sky Movement began as a book co-authored by New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, a former New York Times business journalist. Their research tackles the overlapping problems of sex trafficking and forced prostitution, gender-based violence, and maternal mortality in countries from Somaliland to Cambodia to Afghanistan and beyond. On October 1-2, the “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” documentary comes to PBS with a two-day broadcast, featuring Kristof, WuDunn, and a number of celebrity advocates, including actresses Meg Ryan and America Ferrera.

The Half the Sky Movement makes you realize that one person can make a difference and help a movement to grow.

Yajaira Gonzalez, a campus ambassador and senior at Manhattan’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, responded to the call to action while reading the book. In its last pages, Gonzalez, who is majoring in International Criminal Justice, stumbled upon the index of nonprofit organizations and resources that can help get readers involved (including the Campus Ambassador Program).

John Jay College of Criminal Justice's Half the Sky Movement Campus Ambassador Yajaira Gonzalez first learned of the movement when she was introduced to the book by a colleague. She will be hosting a screening of the film on campus in mid-October. Photo courtesy of Yajaira Gonzalez.

“There’s always that feeling of, ‘I want to help, but I don’t know how,'” says Gonzalez, who is organizing a campus screening of the film open to all CUNY students in mid-October, and further promotes the movement on campus at club fairs, as part of the Model UN, and among women’s groups in the college.

“What’s great about the Half the Sky Movement is it’s giving women a voice who never had a voice — or maybe they’ve been in the newspaper once and have since been forgotten,” says Gonzalez. “Their lives still continue, but we never see the end result or the rest of their story.”

Currently working at a local domestic abuse agency, Gonzalez is aware that the issues tackled by the Half the Sky Movement don’t just exist halfway around the world, or exclusively in developing nations, but all too often, in our own city.

“Before I worked at the agency, I thought, ‘whatever happens at home is a private matter, and the court should not be involved,'” says Gonzalez. “I think a lot of people have that mentality, and I think in the justice system it’s still seen that way, where judges don’t really understand the [domestic abuse] situation and how complicated it is. There are many types of abuse, not just physical, but financial, verbal, emotional, and people think ‘Oh, he’s not hitting you, so it’s not a big deal.’ But it is. It shouldn’t be that someone has to be hit to make it real. I’ve seen these victims and how it changes their whole lives – they can’t function how a normal person would if they hadn’t been abused.”

Gonzalez says it was a gender studies class that first made her aware of gender norms and their impact on society. “Guys sometimes make jokes about a woman’s sexuality or what she should be doing at home,” she says. “And I get that they’re joking, but at the same time if you’re joking about it, you’re agreeing to it, in a way. I think it’s important to break the cycle and talk about what’s considered ‘normal,’ what we can do to change it, and how we can meet in the middle.”

With a multitude of organizations dedicated to women’s issue’s based in or with offices in New York City (among them, Equality Now, International Women’s Health Coalition, Trickle Up, and the Women’s Environment & Development Organization), Gonzalez urges young people to get involved however they can and to narrow down their interests to better inform their search for places to volunteer.

“People get scared of these issues because they are so big,” says Gonzalez. “It may be affecting a large population, but the Half the Sky Movement makes you realize that one person can make a difference and help a movement to grow.”

For her own part, after graduation Gonzalez hopes to work full time at the domestic abuse agency where she is currently employed, and also plans to pursue an internship at the UN Refugee Agency, helping displaced people in war-torn countries. Acknowledging her own humanitarian ambitions, Gonzalez hopes to inspire her fellow students to follow their own, even if only in small ways.

“Everyone can do something,” she says. “You just have to make the effort. It’s not hard.”

The September episode of MetroFocus premieres Sept. 19 at 7:30 p.m. on WLIW, Sept. 20 at 8:30 p.m. on THIRTEEN, and Sept. 25 at 10 p.m. on NJ TV.


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