50 Facts to Change the World


In the bookstore this weekend I ran across the book 50 Facts that Should Change the World by Jessica Williams. While I have not yet had the opportunity to read it in its entirety, I love the concept. Williams provides 50 shocking statistics with enough background and explanation to make us think differently about what is important.

At last! I thought. A kindred spirit. Just the publication to bring global women's health to the national debate. So I flipped through the list looking for "Every minute of every day a woman dies in childbirth."

No luck. The closest stat read "the average Japanese women can expect to live to be 84. The average Botswanan will reach just 39." Promising but the larger explanation is not centered on women specifically.

But Williams did point out that cars kill two people every minute and that the vast majority of those deaths are in low-income countries. She explains that cars don't have the same safety standards and roads are often in very bad shape "so small investments in road safety can make such an enormous difference in the developing world."

I often argue that investing in roads is one of the things that has to happen to reduce maternal mortality around the world.

Again, I think the concept for this book is terrific and I'm sure there are 50 more stats that are equally good and that Williams hears them every day. I'll give a nod to her inclusion of the FGM stat "two million women and girls are subjected to female genital mutilation each year" and the fact that "some 30 million people in Africa have HIV," but the fact that all women in low-income countries are at enormously high risk of dying in childbirth didn't make the list is a bit shocking. Childbirth is fundamental to many women. Maternal mortality affects women in many parts of the world virtually indiscriminately unless serious, concerted efforts are made to address it.

Still, I do believe that Williams, who is actually from New Zealand, is somewhat of a kindred spirit. She practically spoke our One Woman Can philosophy when she said:

Some of these questions like inequality in the world, rich countries versus poor countries, all of that, these are very, very big questions and we can change the world in some ways by thinking, well, who am I going to vote for in an election? Shall I ask my local MP to explain to me how he sees issues like debt relief and so on? But there are some things that we can do that are easy, like going to the supermarket and deciding that you're not going to buy imported tomatoes in the middle of winter… And that sounds like a really small thing but if we all do it then it will have an impact. I think what I really want people to feel is that they can make decisions – even if it's just a decision of how to spend their money in the supermarket, it will make a difference.

With all her political savvy, maybe her next book will be "50 Facts That Could Improve the Lives of Women." There can be no doubt that concerted efforts to change the world have to include efforts targeted specifically at the challenges that belong largely to women.

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