When he was younger, journalist and local hero Nicholas D. Kristof (He grew up near Yamhill, Oregon) spent a year learning Arabic in Cairo, a difficult process further complicated by the fact that his name is an obscenity in that language. But, he says, the ensuing trouble that came from navigating with that handicap in a foreign land was one of the great learning experiences in his fascinating career. He highly recommends it. He’s an advocate for seeking out the uncomfortable, for challenging commonly held beliefs.

To that end, Kristof stood in front of a crowded Bagdad theater Friday night and made a convincing argument that one of the biggest moral challenges of our time is the liberation and empowerment of women. His presentation, along with the book he co-wrote with his journalist wife Sheryl WuDunn, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, was a stunning call to arms about about how strong, powerful women are the linchpin to solving some of the most pressing issues of our time, including poverty and extremism.

Kristof argued that educated women can serve their communities and work as economic catalysts for entire communities. Sounds like a no-brainer, right? A real Duh moment. But in places like Southeast Asia and India, where women often labor (and die) in the sex trade, this idea is heresy.

Kristof said the biggest threats to women around the globe include: the huge sex-slave industry; lack of adequate health care for women and girls, particularly maternal medicine; female education; and financing for women in business.

For more information about Kristof ane WuDunn’s book, Half the Sky, check out their Website. Or follow Kristof’s blog dedicated to global issues surrounding women and girls.