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National Geographic Asked Women from Around the World About Their Breakthroughs and Challenges

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 28, 2019

As part of their Nov 2019 issue focusing on women, National Geographic asked a group of women six questions:

What Is the Most Important Challenge That Women Face Today?
What Is the Greatest Hurdle You’ve Overcome?
What Was Your Breakthrough Moment?
What Needs to Change in the Next 10 Years?
What Is Your Greatest Strength?
What Advice Would You Give Young Women Today?

The interviewees include Jacinda Ardern, Melinda Gates, Roxane Gay, Oprah Winfrey, Jane Goodall, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. When asked about the most important challenge facing women today, the answer was almost universally “lack of equality” (although Laura Bush turned it into an opportunity to worry about boys being left behind educationally in the US). Here’s Jane Goodall’s answer:

In so many developing countries, women have no freedom. In poor communities families tend to provide money to educate boys over girls. In many cultures women have no access to family planning, have numerous children, and are solely responsible for their care. For these reasons not only women but children — and thus our future — will suffer.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote this about her breakthrough moment as a student in Nigeria:

It was when I was nine years old, in the third grade, and I remember this very clearly. My teacher had said that the child with the best results on the test that she gave would be the prefect. So I got the best result — and then she said, ‘Oh, I forgot to mention, it has to be a boy.’ I just thought, Why? It would make sense to have said the class prefect has to be the child with the best grades or the child with some sort of useful skill. But the idea that this position of prestige and power in the classroom was reserved for somebody by an accident of being born a particular sex — that was just strange. So my sense of righteous indignation flared up, and I said to my teacher, ‘That makes no sense.’ That was the first time that I spoke up about sexism. It didn’t work, but it was the moment for me that I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

Oprah Winfrey on what she perceives to be her greatest strength:

No question, it’s connection to other people. You know, I’ve interviewed rapists and murderers and child molesters and all kinds of people who have done terrible things — but I can put myself in the space of where they are in that moment and meet them where they are. So my ability to connect to where you are in that moment — not to the thing that supposedly defines you — that’s one of my great strengths. I think that had I had the love, the attention, the family surroundings that would have nurtured and supported me in the way that I thought I needed, I wouldn’t have it. I think that this connection and yearning to know the heart of other people came from my own sense of loneliness, my own sense of wanting to be understood and know that whatever I’m feeling, somebody else has felt it too.