Alumnae raising awareness about women in the developing world
Sheryl WuDunn *88 speaks at a ceremony in October 2009, when she and her husband, Nicholas Kristof, were honored for their work on behalf of women and girls.
Sheryl WuDunn *88 speaks at a ceremony in October 2009, when she and her husband, Nicholas Kristof, were honored for their work on behalf of women and girls.
Steven A. Henry/WireImage/Getty Images (WuDunn)
Mikaela Beardsley ’92, left, and Jamie Gordon ’92 are producing a television program based on WuDunn’s book.
Mikaela Beardsley ’92, left, and Jamie Gordon ’92 are producing a television program based on WuDunn’s book.
Lisa Witter

When Sheryl WuDunn *88 and her husband, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, set out to write Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, about the plight of women around the world, they wanted to do more than simply record their thoughts and observations. Through their reporting, they had seen the ­myriad ways that women are abused, subjugated, discriminated against — even kidnapped and sold into slavery. The two decided they wanted to do something about it: to start a movement. “When you’re working in this field, it’s very hard to turn away,” WuDunn says. “You really feel like you want to help.”

Half the Sky, a bestseller published in 2009, doesn’t merely recite a list of ills. It also describes how empowering women helps communities rise out of poverty. In the book, WuDunn, now an investment banker, and Kristof say they hope the stories will inspire readers to get personally involved in this century’s “central moral challenge.”

But a book could only do so much, they knew. So WuDunn and Kristof — who shared a Pulitzer Prize in 1990 for their coverage of the democracy movement in China — are pursuing a campaign to promote awareness of violence, discrimination, and poverty. In March 2010 they partici­pated in an event on gender violence hosted by CARE. The event, which took place in New York City and simultaneously was broadcast to 135 theaters around the country, was seen by more than 23,000 people that night. Dozens of television and radio interviews with WuDunn, Kristof, and other participants exposed more people to the issues.

Now WuDunn, who earned a master’s degree from the Woodrow Wilson School, and Kristof are working with two other Princeton graduates to produce a four-hour television program based on the book. The two-part series, which will air on PBS and other television stations in the United States and abroad in 2012, will profile six women affected by sex trafficking, gender discrimination, and economic subjugation. Documentary filmmaker Mikaela Beardsley ’92 — who produced the 2009 film Reporter about Kristof, which screened at the Sundance Film Festival and aired on HBO in 2010 —   is producing the television show. Beardsley has brought in her college roommate Jamie Gordon ’92, a Holly­wood producer who has worked on films like Forrest Gump and The American President, to help produce it.