I was standing in the bow of a small riverboat in Bangladesh, listening to a young man tell me about his experiences trying to help girls stay in school. He was describing a distinctive and horrific set of practices that were, unaccountably, exactly the same as I was seeing in a West African field site.
For years, I had been taught—as have we all—that gender norms and practices are a cultural thing and, therefore, different everywhere. Indeed, the premise that gender practices fall under the protection of cultural sovereignty has been a predicate for much international policy and academic writing. We are supposed to look past even the most appalling barbarisms in the name of cultural "respect." So, I was unprepared to hear the details of a seemingly culturally-specific set of practices being mirrored in such a distant place.
As if a shark had suddenly lunged out of the water, I felt a flash of shock and fear. I saw in the teeth of this evidence that we had all been wrong. The phenomenon that swam beneath years of ethnographic observation was bigger and more threatening that anyone had thought. It was a global beast, perhaps thousands of years old, and it was going to require a bigger boat to take it down.
That insight and the difficult emotions that it brought have stayed with me. Indeed, at the time, I was depressed about it for days, as if I had looked Pure Evil straight in the eyes.
I have never gotten a chance to tell about the magnitude of that vision and the fear that came with it until now. In a new Forbes interview appearing today, from David Benjamin and David Komlos, I finally get a chance to recount the impact of that moment.
The interview is appearing under a series Benjamin and Komlos call "The Brody Moment," referring to a famous scene from Jaws. There will be another interview from me appearing tomorrow. For more about my story and other insights from my experiences in women's economic empowerment, please take a look.