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Pulitzer Center Update February 10, 2014

This Week: Unwanted and Unprotected


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Gunjan’s older sister Tanuja tries on her best outfit prior to going to a family wedding. At 13-years-old and unmarried, her mother keeps her inside most of the time for fear that she will get hurt or taken in the streets. In conservative parts of India and especially in their neighborhood, a girl is expected to get married at puberty but her mother, a widow, will struggle to find any of her three daughters respectable suitors without money for the dowries. Image by Amy Toensing. India, 2013.


In India and many other parts of the world, widowhood is not merely a tragic personal sorrow, it is a devastating state of diminishment that can trigger economic ruin and cruel social consequences that are often felt for generations. Pulitzer Center grantees Jessica Benko and Amy Toensing tell the story of 8-year-old Gunjan, whose chances in life are already narrowing.

Gunjan's mother, who was widowed at an early age, is illiterate and can only get occasional work as a day laborer. Her older sister, age 13, is considered too old to safely leave the house for work; her two other siblings, ages 3 and 5, are too young. So it is Gunjan who has assumed responsibility for supporting the family of five. She sells marigolds to pilgrims along the banks of the Yamuna, the second most sacred river in Hinduism. She earns about two dollars a day and she hasn't been to school in a year or two.

Writing in National Geographic's "Proof" blog, Jessica says that Gunjan and her sisters are headed down the same path as their unfortunate mother. "[B]ecause of their poverty, they are likely to be married to much older men, who may leave them as unskilled, illiterate widows with young children, as their mother is now."


The Winter Olympics are now underway in Sochi, with a massive cordon of security surrounding the Black Sea resort city to protect against possible terror attacks from Chechnya and the troubled Caucasus region. But as Pulitzer Center senior adviser Marvin Kalb notes on his Brookings Institution blog, the unrest bubbling up in Ukraine may pose a more serious threat to Russian President Vladimir Putin's big show.

"Clearly Putin does not want to strike against Ukraine as the Winter Olympics open in nearby Sochi," writes Marvin. "He has invested massively in the success of the Olympics—more than $50 billion. A Russian move against Ukraine, similar to the Russian move against Georgia six years ago, would shift the world's attention from what Putin wants the world to see as the splendor of Russia; a golden opportunity for investment, proof on the winter slopes of the Olympics that Russia remains a great power and worthy of global respect and admiration."

But neither can Putin afford to "lose" Ukraine, writes Marvin. "As a student of Russian history, Putin must know that Peter the Great once said of a Swedish threat to conquer the Ukrainian part of the Russian empire that if Russia loses Ukraine, it is no longer Russia."


The Sochi games have also focused international attention on Putin's open contempt for gay rights. As Pulitzer Center grantee Micah Fink has documented in his film, "The Abominable Crime," Jamaica is another place that has become dangerous for homosexuals, owing in part to an anti-sodomy law that gives official sanction to vicious hate crimes.

Micah and Maurice Tomlinson, a lawyer and activist featured in the film, attended a screening with nearly 600 public high school students in northeast Philadelphia recently. The viewing capped a day-long exploration of social justice at the Arts Academy at Benjamin Rush, with discussions and student performances that brought the school together in one of the more gratifying engagements with Pulitzer Center journalism that we've seen in a school setting.

Micah and Maurice will continue their outreach around the film in Europe next month, with appearances at film festivals in Amsterdam and London, and talks at our partner schools and universities on the continent.


Three women grouped together: an elderly woman smiling, a transwoman with her arms folded, and a woman holding her headscarf with a baby strapped to her back.


Gender Equality

Gender Equality