EXII Book Review: Half the Sky
Highlight of Book Review from Fall 2010 Exponent II
A Call to Care
As the title suggests, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, investigates gender inequality throughout the world with the call for readers to address women’s issues as “the paramount moral challenge of the 21st century.” Written by Pulitzer Prize winning journalists Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn, a married couple who have traveled the world reporting on human rights since witnessing the Tiananmen Square massacre, the book reflects the authors’ own passion to denounce and spread awareness about all types of human suffering as well as offer strategies to change the world.
Through their engaging essays which offer historical context, heart-breaking yet inspiring storytelling, excruciating detail, and startling statistics, they show how education, medical care, and aid can make a difference to women and communities throughout the world. They focus on three horrific injustices: sex trafficking and forced prostitution; gender-based violence, including honor killings and mass rape; and maternal mortality in the developing world. Giving the victims names and faces, they portray the suffering, audacity, determination, and hope of those who overcome their personal history as well as the heartache of those who do not. This is described vividly with atrocities such as teenagers who are sold into forced prostitution and contract AIDS, women who are raped and forced to marry their perpetrators, and women who suffer obstetric fistulas and become incontinent which leads to ostracization from their communities and often death.
Recognizing the complexities of such situations, the authors candidly discuss how their own efforts to help sometimes went awry. For example, even though they bought a prostitute’s freedom, she later returned to her brothel both as a consequence of being shunned by her home community upon her return home as well as a drug addiction which was initiated to keep her compliant when she was held prisoner in the brothel. But undeterred by complications, the authors show how individuals and organizations can help women in difficult circumstances, offering the hope and perspective that people can make a difference. They describe how international aid helped Srey Rath, a Cambodian girl, build a business to support her family after she escaped from her brothel, and helped sustain organizations like the Edna Adan Hospital in Somaliland, which continues to save women dying from obstetric fistulas.
Another focus of the book explains the success of communities that take care of, educate, and enable women economically. In addition to describing how individuals and families benefit from micro-lending, the book describes how China became an economic power by employing women in factories, which although not perfect, provided jobs and opportunities and moved the culture away from historic foot-binding, concubinage, and female infanticide. Half the Sky, titled after the Chinese Proverb “women hold up half the sky,” transforms women’s issues into human issues by highlighting how the plight of women is directly linked to global problems like poverty, maternal health, and education.
Although I have always been concerned about women’s rights, reading about the power of individuals and charities was a reminder to expand my brand of American feminism to include all women worldwide while remembering issues stateside. When I finished reading Half the Sky, I felt compelled to follow its simple suggestions to select and donate to an organization of my choice, look at websites for more information, and encourage people in my daily life to do the same. It made me want to be an activist, to truly show my compassion, concern, and faith by caring for poor and needy women throughout the world. I could appreciate how we are all in this sisterhood together.
Half the Sky’s premise is that the oppression of women is an ignored injustice that requires a grass roots movement to effect change. Reading the book is the first step to becoming informed. I hope it continues to motivate many people, whether secular humanists or religious believers, to reach out and help in the global community, even just by helping one person. For me, this resonates with Mormonism which proclaims “And if it so be that you should labor all your days … and save it be one soul … how great shall be your joy … !” (D&C 18:15). To feel the tremendous moral responsibility to emancipate women and strengthen individuals and communities only brings more passion to the cause. ■
While the book review stands by itself in the Fall 2010 edition of Exponent II, we thought it was worth cross-posting here to generate discussion. What are your impressions of Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide? What sections of the book were the most powerful, persuasive, or even troublesome? How does thinking of global Women’s issues affect your perception of other Feminist issues? How do you reach out beyond your normal sphere of influence? How do you think this fits with the mission of the Exponent?