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John Jay Senior Sheds Light on Oppression of Women and Girls Worldwide

Senior Yajaira Gonzalez, who is a International Criminal Justice major, serves as the Campus Ambassador for the Half the Sky Movement at John Jay College (http://www.halftheskymovement.org/). This was spearheaded by the husband and wife team of Nicholas Kristof (New York Times) and Sheryl WuDunn both of whom are Pulitzer Prize Winners.  The movement sprung from the success of their book, “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.”  The book chronicles, through personal stories, the extent of violence against and oppression of women and girls across the world. A documentary about the movement/book was aired on PBS’s Independent Lens series over two nights (Oct 1 and Oct 2). A screening took place on campus on October 11th.

Gonzalez’s passion for issues affecting women internationally was ignited when she read the book two years ago. It suffused her with a need to serve those about whom she was reading.

“The best part of the book,” said Gonzalez “was the back.” “It had a whole beautiful list of organizations. We all want to help in some way, but we often don’t know how or where to start.” The premise of the book and of Half The Sky Movement is that economic independence, prosperity, their freedom from violence in all its forms is contingent upon increased opportunities and education for women and girls.

“Nick and I wanted to galvanize people into action,” said Sheryl WuDunn in the movement’s trailer. And it worked with Gonzalez.

She enrolled in the Campus Ambassador Program which is Half the Sky Movement’s initiative to raise awareness among young people across college campuses about issues affecting women internationally. As Ambassador, she will host a screening and discussion of Half the Sky co-sponsored by the Women's Center and the UNSA club. It is also International Day of the Girl and to commemorate Gonzalez has organized activities to empower students to take action and an interactive discussion about the issues shown in the film.

Gonzalez, who currently works at a domestic violence agency, had her interest in women’s issues initially piqued when she took a Gender Studies class with John Jay Professor Jennifer Rutledge.

“My whole perspective on international human rights and women’s rights shifted after that class,” said Gonzalez. “Women are still targeted as being less than equal.  Ninety-five percent of domestic violence victims are women. I’m interested in what men can do as well, we have to live in this world together.”

In addition, Gonzalez was a member of the United Nations Student Association and she is starting a new club called Global Brigades so her social awareness was expanding on many fronts. Her goals for the future involve working with refugees and displaced persons and fundraising for a non-government organization, such as the Edna Allen hospital which addresses issues of maternal mortality, fistulas and genital mutilation.

“When I graduate I want to work with refugees and focus on human rights. I want to volunteer and really see it and live it. I can’t just read about these issues in a book,” said Gonzalez.

To read the PBS/MetroFocus article on Yajaira Gonzalez’s involvement with the Half the Sky Movement, click here.