Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

By Eriene-Heidi Sidhom


In Half the Sky, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn,
preface by describing a “gendercide” of women. Due to the
high life expectancy of women, there should be a higher number
of women in the world than men. However, in countries
where women face inequality, such as China, India and Pakistan,
men outnumber the women. Calculations estimate that
the number of women that die due to this gendercide in a single
decade is more than all the victims
of genocide in the twentieth century.
These unsettling and shocking statistics
are the premise of an investigation of
the various forms of gendercide in primarily
Asia and Africa.
While Half the Sky could run the
risk of sounding sermonizing, their
personal interactions with the many
victims of gender inequality, lends a
sincerity and verity to the stories of
these incredible women. Similarly, while
issues of rape and honor killings could
lead to a dark account of unimaginable
cruelty, Kristof and WuDunn strike the
balance between the reality of gender
inequality and the inspiring women
who have gained a sense of independence
and freedom.
Each chapter begins with an overview
of an obstacle that women face
around the globe. The current efforts
in combating this issue, the reasons for
their successes and failures, and stories
of individuals who have become victim to such discrimination
and cruelty are introduced. The second half of each chapter
then details a particular organization or individual who has
been able to establish a model for eliminating or mitigating
the effects presented in the first half. This format gives the
reader the context allowing it to be accessible to even those
with no background in the field and introduces the reader to
the many ways they can be involved. Kristof and WuDunn,
do not claim that there is a single silver bullet for any of the
given forms of gendercide. They make an effort to highlight
successful outreach and educational efforts, while simultaneously
acknowledging their potential limitations.
The book begins by discussing prostitution with a focus
on eastern Asia. It speaks about the deception used to bring
young girls into brothels, the violence they endure from
the pimps and the difficulties even when they are given the
chance to start a new life due to drug dependence and feelings
of worthlessness.
Beyond brothels, the book discusses the authority men
gain over women through rape and extreme sexual violence,
particularly in places like the Congo. Kristof and WuDunn tell
the inspiring stories of women like Mukhtar Mei, a gang rape
victim, who through the support of her family, demanded the
prosecution of her attackers and used the money to start a
school. The necessity of education in empowering women
and the economic advantages of doubling
the work force and intellectual
and political communities of a nation,
through the incorporation of women,
are themes that are carried throughout
the book.
The latter half of the book focuses
on women reproductive health issues,
in particular the devastating effects of
complications in childbirth leading
to fistulas. While, these are commonly
thought of as “women’s issues,” Kristof
and WuDunn emphasize this is an issue
of human rights; as Stephen Lewis said
to the UN Secretary General Ban Kimoon,
“We’re talking about more than
fifty percent of the world’s population…
If you can’t stand up for the women of
the world, then you shouldn’t be Secretary
The book also speaks of the efforts
of children and adults here in the United
States whose seemingly small contributions,
grew into national efforts. Twelve
year old Zach Hunter started a campaign against modern
slavery called Loose Change to Loosen Chains, and raised
$8,500 in his first year. Jane Roberts, a retired French teacher,
responded to the 2004 announcement to deny the $34 million
voted by Congress for the United Nations Population Fund,
by writing to her local paper, asking for 34,000,000 women
to donate $1 each to the UN Population Fund. The UNFPA,
while at first doubtful of this small effort, was soon overwhelmed
by mail; to date, they have raised $4 million.
Half the Sky is not merely a narrative of dozens of inspiring
women worldwide, but a call to action by showing the
need for equality and the importance of every contribution.

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