On Half the Sky

When I first started blogging, I was inspired primarily by food blogs and book blogs – spaces where people were sharing their opinions on what they read and ate, offering small glimpses of just one facet of their myriad interests and talents. As I’ve become further immersed in the blog community, I’ve started to find other sources of inspiration – from pure photo blogs to lifestyle blogs, motivational blogs to blogs that document the attainment of very specific goals and everything in between. My taste in blogs has becoming increasingly wide and varied and so too has the subject matter I want to cover.

I feared becoming the kind of blogger who simply documented the mundanities of her daily life, so I initially steered clear of most personal commentary, sticking to the format utilized by the foodies and the readers. But then I realized how much more I had to share and that, though I don’t need to document every moment of my life, there are parts of myself that can’t go unacknowledged on this blog.

So I began to share some essay-style posts on issues of interest to me and in the process, I feel like I’ve given my readers a more complete and accurate idea of who I am and what matters to me. All in all it’s proven an enriching and very positive change.

And as a feminist and a women’s studies major in college, I felt like discussing Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn seemed the perfect opportunity to expand my content even further. This amazing book addresses a multitude of international women’s issues while placing them in the larger scheme of humanitarian crises, profiling successful strategies for change, and offering methods for readers to help.

Kristof and WuDunn are a married couple who worked as New York Times journalists. While covering international pieces throughout their journalistic careers, however, the two noticed widespread gender inequality and cruel injustices towards women worldwide that were getting little to no news coverage whatsoever. They were appalled by the way that gender discrimination manifests itself in other nations, particularly those of the third world. Though the exact numbers are hard to flesh out, every year more than 2 million girls disappear as a result of discrimination based on sex while the number of missing women falls somewhere between 60 and 101 million. This could be a result of parents refusing to access treatment for their sick daughters in favor of primary treatment for their sons, infanticide of female babies, sex trafficking, honor killings, and so much more. All of these cruelties are outgrowths of gender inequality.

Half the Sky highlights not only the horrible gender-based injustices occurring around the globe, including sex slavery, rape, honor killings, maternal mortality, and misogyny among others, but also solutions for improvement. To truly engage readers, the authors rely primarily upon the narratives of women who have suffered through horrible events. We meet a multitude of strong, courageous, and remarkable women that have prevailed despite the odds. While these success stories are encouraging, they are far from the norm. But they do provide a sense of hope that something can be done to improve conditions and to fight what Kristof and WuDunn think will be this century’s major moral battle: gender inequality. And what the authors and plenty other scholars believe to be a key solution to winning this one is education for women.

Gender inequality hurts not only the women subject to discrimination, but also the men who help to compose the society at large. By keeping women uneducated, they are thus unable to contribute to any sort of progress or development efforts. Multiple humanitarian organizations have cited educating women as a central tenet of their mission because doing so will undoubtedly enrich societies. Programs as varied as The Hunger Project, Doctors without Borders, The Center for Global Development, and even the Nike Foundation all focus a large portion of their efforts on women because of the untapped potential for good of doing so.

All throughout the book, readers are provided with the outlines of potential solutions in which they can take part. Kristof and WuDunn showcase remarkable individuals who have done great things to help women around the globe, such as Frank Grijalva, a teacher at a private school in Redmond, Washington. Grijalva encouraged his students to raise $13,000 to build a school in a border town in Cambodia. The teacher started the project in an effort to open his upper-middle-class students’ eyes to the reality of the lives of others around the globe. But beyond simply funding the construction of this school, many of Grijalva’s students have actually traveled with him to Cambodia to witness first-hand the conditions that define the Cambodian students’ lives. Though building the Cambodian school was an extremely powerful project for the Redmond students, the visit solidified a commitment to service for so many of the Americans, while also fostering positive international friendships among individual students. What the authors continually come back to is the importance of gaining a true understanding of how the other half lives in order to create better solutions. The Redmond students were very much changed by their time in Cambodia and much more essentially affected by the trip than by their fundraising efforts to build the school. This example speaks to the power those of us in the first world have and the ways in which we need to critically think about our potential for making an impact instead of just throwing money at problems without viable solutions.

Kristof and WuDunn consider the West to hold some responsibility in altering the reality of gross gender inequality, poverty, and lack of education. Kristoff speaks with an Indian officer patrolling the Indian-Nepalese border and is shocked to find that the intelligence officer only concerns himself with pirated and smuggled goods, not people. Their exchange is almost laughable in that this officer continually completely fails to understand Kristoff’s concern about women involved in sex trafficking. As the authors see it, this is an instance when perceived Western values influence decisions around the globe. As they explain it “India had delegated an intelligence officer to look for pirated goods because it knew that the United States cares about intellectual property. When India feels that the West cares as much about slavery as it does about pirated DVDs, it will dispatch people to the borders to stop traffickers.” The blame is not entirely on our shoulders as Westerners, however we are the ones with the greatest power, politically, ideologically, and otherwise, to do something about it. The authors take a very fair and honest look at what is being done and what could be done to help.

Usually when I post reviews about non-fiction, I am satisfied to know that I shared with my readers a bit of the content of the book, even if they aren’t likely to go out and pick the book up for themselves. With Half the Sky, I truly hope that readers give serious consideration to finding a copy and diving right in. There are far too many things wrong in the world today and, for plenty of concerned individuals, the odds of making an impact are just too small. Kristoff and WuDunn will definitely further educate you on the woes of the world, the gross inequities and the horrible losses that we are doing nothing to stop. But they will also offer a picture of hope. The whole premise of this book is that these instances of oppression can be turned into opportunities for women. And the authors of Half the Sky devote a large portion of their work to those opportunities, both examples of and methods of creating them.

The last few sections of the book set out a larger plan for addressing the instances of oppression that are covered in prior chapters. The vision that Kristof and WuDunn set forth is inspired and inspiring, but also attainable. They draw comparisons to the British anti-slavery movement in the late 18th century that put the fight for women’s rights internationally into a whole new perspective. But they also highlight those small things that individuals can do to make an impact on any level.

Half the Sky has the unique ability to enrage and activate readers, to educate and direct them, to ignite and inspire change. Individuals in the Western world have the greatest ability to lead a movement to educate women, improve international health, and guarantee greater happiness and full protection of human rights for people of both sexes the whole world over.

For more information about the book and to learn what you can do to help turn oppression into opportunity for women, visit the Half the Sky website here.

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