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Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Book Review: Half the Sky

Subtitle: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide
Authors: Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

In honour of International Women's Day, I'm reposting a review from three years ago on my previous blog:

Kristof and WuDunn are the first husband and wife team to win a Pulitzer Prize for journalism and WuDunn the first Asian-American to win a Pulitzer. When the pair covered the Tiananmen Square protest in 1989, they believed they were bearing witness to "the most shocking violation imaginable". They were about to discover an even greater human rights violation that had claimed "tens of thousands more lives".

I first heard about this book from a friend who works at the Sage Colleges in New York State when she was to be part of a community discussion at a screening of the movie. When I asked what it was all about, she said I would have to read it for myself  ;). And yes, she winked. 

Since I'm part of a book club and had to choose a book for our June (2013) discussion, I decided to make the members read it as well. I didn't want to read it too far in advance, as I figured I'd forget it, so I started watching the movie. The movie introduces many of the people you'll meet in the book, and while the book includes photographs of these individuals, there's little more powerful than seeing them in action in their communities, and hearing them share their stories in their own words. Books are often great for enabling you to visualize things for yourself, but in situations like the ones described here, a documentary is the next best thing to actually being there.

Nick and Sheryl are making these stories their life's work, to be part of "a global movement to emancipate women and girls" and make no bones of their hope to recruit us "to join an incipient movement to emancipate women and fight global poverty by unlocking women's power as economic catalysts". Between the pages of Half the Sky, you meet a wide variety of female victims - girls and women who are viewed as no more than chattel and disposable commodities. Through no fault of their own - solely because they were born the "wrong" gender in societies that place the greatest value on boys and men - these young ladies are abused, raped, kidnapped, killed, shunned, etc. in horrifying numbers. It is a shame on media and newsmakers that if Nick and Sheryl had not seen the importance of bringing these stories to light, they would likely have remained hidden in the shadows.

Half the Sky also portrays women who are being leaders in dark places, strong women who despite the obstacles and danger, are helping the girls and women they can, while trying to change cultural attitudes and mores. And they include us in the process, telling us how we can come alongside these local leaders and volunteers to do our part and speed the movement along. While aid organizations sometimes make mistakes and attempt things that fail, there are agencies and people doing good work, where we can donate our money and our time/effort.

My husband and I are already supporting three girls through Compassion's sponsorship program, but reading this book encourages me to do more [2016 update: we are volunteers with Compassion]. While this organization isn't mentioned in the book, I would also feel confident in supporting the work of Save the Mothers, whose founder, Dr. Jean Chamberlain-Froese, grew up in the same church as I did.

It's possible you don't want your eyes opened, that you don't want to change or be pulled out of your comfort zone. It's possible you believe we have enough poverty right here at home and that this is where charity ought to begin. With all due respect, I urge you to read Half the Sky and then ask yourself if the situation here is as dire. You may not be able to do everything, but you if you can make a difference in one person's miserable life, wouldn't it be worth it to store up treasures in heaven (by investing in people) or at least pay forward part of what you have been blessed with? Perhaps it is possible to support local efforts as well as international ones.

Please read this book with an open heart and consider what you can do for the women of the world.


  1. Never heard of this book but now I want to read it!

    1. Will look forward to hearing your thoughts, Deborah. I found it a very worthwhile read.


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