Moving beyond awareness

November 15, 2012 | 11 a.m.

Bethel student takes the next step in fighting injustice against women

News | Jon Westmark  

Moving beyond awareness

Sophomore Katie Chapin's first task as a campus ambassador is to spread the Half the Sky movement on campus. | Erin Gallagher

For Bethel sophomore Katie Chapin, it started in an unlikely place. She was in the library, studiously reading her assigned text for PHI210L: The Modern Mind, when she found herself in an unfamiliar situation. As tears streamed down her face, she realized the stories she was taking in weren’t just mental notes for a test.

She was reading “Half the Sky,” a book co-authored by Pulitzer Prize-winning advocacy journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. The Half the Sky organization aims to bring about equality by focusing on six issues women are facing around the world: forced prostitution, gender-based violence, sex trafficking, maternal mortality, education and economic empowerment. 

Chapin was especially affected by the stories of maternal mortality. “I didn’t really think of it as a big issue today, but in countries like Uganda, women die every day from having children,” she said. “Our society is so advanced. Why aren’t we helping them keep their women alive?”

Since reading the book last spring she has become a campus ambassador at Bethel, starting a fundraising group and organizing initiatives to get the word out. She believes education is essential. “Education overarches everything,” she said. “If you keep a girl in school, they don’t marry as young, they don’t have kids when they are young and it keeps them from being sold. It raises their standards as human beings.”

Education is important on both ends, according to Chapin. After finishing the book, she began following the movement on Facebook and receiving news via email. When asked to become a campus ambassador, she jumped at the idea. "I feel so called to do this,” she said. After a short interview, she became a part of the program.

Her first task is to inform Bethel students about the issues and show how to get involved. She showed the "Half the Sky" movie on campus in October before a crowd of about 40 people. “I didn’t know some of them – so that was good,” she said. 

Along with celebrities and international figures like Eva Mendes, Hillary Clinton, Desmond Tutu, Meg Ryan and Susan Sarandon, the film follows Kristof and WuDunn as they get to know victims and listen to their personal success stories.

Chapin is currently working on the second initiative as campus ambassador. “Now it’s more about the book and getting that on campus and into common reading,” she said. Chapin has been working with campus ambassadors from other schools on a way to get the book into places beyond the philosophy department. “We’d like to eventually incorporate it into the CWC and Humanities programs,” she said. 

In addition to her work on campus, Chapin continues to be involved in other areas. “Half the Sky has this Crowdrise group that I started a fundraiser for,” she said. “They give you a list of like 30 organizations and their descriptions. You can pick one and start a fundraiser for it.” 

She believes the best part about these groups is microfinancing. “If you lend $20 you get it back at some point because the women pay back their loan,” she said. Through microfinancing, women are able to start their own initiatives. She cites the Somaly Mam Foundation as an example of what someone can do when given a chance. After escaping sex slavery in Cambodia, Mam created her organization, which has helped more than 7,000 girls escape the sex-slave industry – some as young as three years old. “These victims use their experience to empower others, and that is the beauty of the entire issue at hand – it's working from the bottom up,” said Chapin.

According to Chapin, Bethel has been active in the discussion of sex trafficking and domestic violence, but there is always a need for more action. “A lot of people do know about the issues,” she said. “I think people’s question now is, ‘How can I help as a middle-class American in a private Christian university?’”

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