When Nicholas Kristof goes on family vacations, they aren’t the ones his daughter’s friends go on. He would rather go to the slums of Honduras and dirt-poor countries around the world than to Disney World or the Caribbean.

But in November, he relented.

“So, I took her to the Caribbean,” he said, chuckling. “I took her to Haiti.”

Kristof, a renowned columnist for the New York Times and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, spoke in front of almost 300 people in Pugh Hall on Monday about the problems women and girls face across the globe. The event, called “Women: Holding Up Half the Sky,” was hosted by the Bob Graham Center for Public Service.

Known for his informative, investigative and eye-opening “spilled-coffee writing” on major issues like the Middle East and human trafficking, he said the future of the world rests in how it takes care of the women in it.

In past centuries, he said, there have always been “central moral challenges.” In the 19th century, it was slavery. In the 20th century, it was the issue of totalitarianism. And in the 21st century, the moral challenge is the oppression of women.

“In much of the world, gender discrimination is lethal,” he said.

He told stories about a 13-year-old girl giving birth and suffering from medical injuries, crawling 30 miles for help. He talked about a woman putting sleeping powder in her brothers’ food so she could escape an honor killing because she wanted to marry someone they didn’t like.

He also spent a portion of his talk discussing the turmoil unfolding in the Middle East.

Just back from a Middle East trip marked by numerous death threats, he said if the world wants to make that region more secure, it must invest in girls’ education and women in the work force.

“Women and girls are not the problem,” he said. “They are the solution.”

He said people often ask him why they should care about such issues.

His answer: Go out into the world.

“If you see a girl with her eye gouged out or a girl who wants to go to school, you don’t ask that question,” he said.

He encouraged students to go and get out of their comfort zones and find a cause to figure out how to make the world a better place.

 “I hope you will find a cause that will help give you the opportunity to change the world just a little bit,” he said.


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