The Irony of The Girl Effect
I saw this on Oprah yesterday. Yes, I watched Oprah. Yesterday was World AIDS Day and I anticipated her doing a thoughtful program, which I think she did.
Here's a video she showed, produced by the Nike Foundation:
The message is clear and necessary and indisputable. But the cow part?
The irony of the cow part is that much of this Oprah show was about slavery. Human slavery, of course. Sex slavery.
Oprah and journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (Kristof's wife and co-author with him of "Half the Sky"), along with a bevy of celebrities who contributed to short videos, described some of the atrocities committed against women and suggested what audience members can do.
I think the show was well done and informative and here's what struck me most. There was a brief discussion about why these horrifying crimes can go on, and in such great numbers, without the world doing something about them. Without a demand to their cessation.
And the answer was basically: If this were happening to men, the world would have put a stop to it.
The irony of the inclusion of the cow in The Girl Effect is that it swaps one form of slavery for another. It says, in no uncertain terms, that the way to prevent the enslavement of a girl is for her to enslave a cow (and then more cows) because that property will give her power.
Oprah's a huge Heifer International fan, and how people who are concerned with justice can give to that organization shocks me. It's particularly ironic for a black woman to support Heifer International.
To Kristof's credit, he immediately mentions a story included in "Half the Sky" about a woman who was given fertilizer for her potato crop, which flourished and was so lucrative that she became the center of power in her family because she had the money. It was because of her that her husband could get medical care when he fell ill.
The central message of the program was not about enslaving animals, of course. But each time Oprah or a guest mentioned a statistic, and the audience was appropriately surprised and disgusted by that statistic, a statistic about animals quickly popped into my mind. For example, Oprah (or Kristof) said:
"At the peak of the transatlantic slave trade, 80,000 slaves were transported from Africa to the new world. Today, more than 10 times as many women are being forced into brothels or other forms of slavery."
That's 800,000, and that's a crime of disgraceful proportion and it I'm not minimizing it. But tens of billions of nonhumans are created as slaves and also live unimaginably terrifying lives. And 99% of the population (as in, 1%, I believe, are vegans) doesn't care. And The Girl Effect is promoting that form of slavery.
The conclusion that seems inevitable regarding nonhuman slaves is the same one that explains why women are still living as slaves: they are not seen as valuable the way men are.
The impulse might be to say that we need to work on freeing women first, and then work on animals. But it's the same concept that underlies both situations: viewing others as commodities that you have a right to exploit. The only problem is that in the case of animals, most people don't see that yet. Our job, it seems to me, is to help them see it.
Injustice wears many masks, but behind them all is the same face: the belief that you have the right to use and profit from someone else's life.