A world of women’s struggles on display at Skirball

As young women in America, we can go to school, become lawyers, doctors, artists. We have power over our bodies, can decide whether and when we want to have children, or even choose an abortion. We benefit from the work of feminists throughout history, and despite still existing inequalities between the sexes; most of us live a pretty cushioned life compared to women all around the globe.

In a year, where three women won the Noble Prize, it is easy to assume that gender equality has been achieved and there is nothing left to fight for; but when walking around the exhibit and learning about women’s suffering in detail, it is a harsh wake up call.

Inspired by the bestselling book “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” by Nicolas D. Kristof, a columnist for the New York Times, and his wife Sheryl WuDann, the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, opens its doors to the exhibition “Women Hold Up Half The Sky.” The exhibit uses images to tell the stories of injustice and gender oppression around the world, combined with a glimpse of hope.

One of the Skirball’s docents, Myrna Gordon, who taught a group counseling class for women at UCLA Extension, tells the story of Nyabenda Goretti. Goretti is a mother of six, frequently beaten by her husband, never allowed to leave her hut, making her completely dependent on the good will of her spouse.

When Goretti hears of so-called “women’s solidarity groups,” supported by the humanitarian organization CARE, she joins and receives a $2 microloan, to extend her garden. While her husband is out at the local pub, drinking traditional banana beer with his friends, Goretti is working overtime.

Making $7.50 with her potato crop, Goretti is able to pay her loan back, including interest, providing the opportunity for another woman to take out a microloan, and starts her own banana beer business. Now that she is making her own money, her husband respects her and even seeks her advice, when it comes to business.

But not all of the stories have such a positive message; when author Kristof was traveling through the eastern Congo, he was trying to interview one of the many victims of routine rape. To ensure the victim’s privacy, they walked over to a tree to talk about the crime committed. Within 10 minutes a long line of women formed nearby.

When asked what the women were doing, the woman in front answered, ”We’re all rape victims. We want to tell our story, too.”

As tragic as the line-up of grey colored shadows displayed on one the walls of the exhibit is, it is encouraging to hear that women start to speak up and by telling their stories, defending themselves, seeking justice and a better future for generations to come.

Divided into three main sections, “Women Hold Up Half The Sky”, teaches the visitor about human trafficking, maternal health and gender-based oppression. To intensify the exhibit’s title, the ceiling is covered by sky-imitating sheets, full of white, cloud-like pockets, that are filled with wishes, visitors can write on blue and purple colored papers, at the end of the exhibit. Every week, the wishes are collected and put into the “sky.”

When “Women Hold Up Half The Sky” ends its run on March 11, 2012, the wishes will be collected and send to women in the Congo, to strengthen their spirit, to give hope and a feeling of shared identity.