A year ago in May, my husband Jay and I met a new friend in the backseat of a Guatemalan bus. On the 7 hour ride along dusty roads, mountain passes, and pine forests, we discovered that this girl from Greece was a Harvard grad and had a passion for helping women in conflict zones.
At the time of our meeting, Roxanne was affiliated with the UN, designing and implementing intervention-based projects in conflict and post-conflict zones for the reintegration of women in peaceful communities. She joked that she had all the wrong stamps in her passport to get through U.S. customs “ having lived, travelled, or worked in India, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Uganda, Sudan, Israel, the West Bank, Colombia, Ecuador and Guatemala.”
Though we only spent 48 hours together, we’ve since become good friends with Roxanne. At the beginning of our online friendship I realized that she is a reader, and recently I came across these words scribbled into my journal: “Must read Half the Sky.” A recommendation from Roxanne.
Considering that she probably knows more about women’s issues on the ground than anyone I know, I decided to take Roxanne up on her offer and have spent the last few weeks grappling with the content of this well-written, powerful book. I hope the following review leads you to pick up Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity For Women Worldwide.
“From two of our most fiercely moral voices, a passionate call to arms against our era’s most pervasive human rights violation: the oppression of women and girls in the developing world. With Pulizer Prize winners Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn as our guides, we undertake an odyssey through Africa and Asia to meet the extraordinary women struggling there, among them a Cambodian teenager sold into sex slavery and an Ethiopian woman who suffered devastating injuries in childbirth. Drawing on the breadth of experience, Kristof and WuDunn depict our world with anger, sadness, clarity, and, ultimately, hope.”
Feelings I experienced reading this book:
- Deeply troubled
- Frustrated that the issues are so complex
- Inspired by people who use their power to empower, not exploit.
- Moved by women’s courage and wondering I would be so brave in their shoes.
- Determined to show people dignity and to not withhold good from others when it is in my power to act.
A third of the book is on sex trafficking and forced prostitution, while the other sections focus on honour killings, mass rape, and maternal morality. Reading this book helped me see that these issues are interconnected, and that in order to understand the nature of sex trafficking we must understand women’s plight as a whole.
It’s not about women’s rights, but human rights for women. The authors write:
“In the nineteenth century, the central moral challenge was slavery. In the twentieth century, it was the battle against totalitarianism. We believe that this century the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for gender equality around the world.”
The term “gender equality” gets a bad rep. To be honest, the first thing I picture when I hear the term is a bunch of whiny women in business suits and high heels. I do not wish to downplay the struggles women face in the North American workplace and admire those who are breaking through the glass ceiling and shattering stereotypes. But for those of you who get similar images in your head when you think about gender equality and are turned off before even reading a book like this, I’d like to remind you that the majority of the world’s women are oppressed and discriminated against on a whole other level.
Malnourished Ethiopian girls filling emergency feeding centres while brothers in the same family are perfectly nourished at home, hundreds of women a year in Pakistan’s twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi being doused in kerosene and set alight or burned with acid for perceived disobedience, and girls being kidnapped and sold into brothels in Cambodia are just a few examples of why gender equality is so important in the developing world.
Three things I appreciate about this book:
- Not only is it story-based, but the stories are told with excellence, clarity, and compassion.
- It is real. Kristof and WuDunn don’t shy away from the complexities of the issues, but include details that break the mold of our expectations.
- It challenges cultural and religious norms without being disrespectful.
A word about the authors: Nicholas and Sheryl are the first married couple to win a Pulitzer prize in journalism. I love that they write books together. I can only imagine how close two people can get working as a team on such important projects.
In summary: This book is a must-read, and now on my top 5 favourite books list. Women, pick up this book and learn about what your sisters around the world are going through. Men (especially those of you who are wary of feminists and women’s rights), I challenge you to read this book and let me know if it helps you think about gender issues differently. Borrow it from your local library or buy it here.
What an opportunity we have to turn oppression into opportunity for women worldwide!
***Photographers, send in your photos on this theme for a chance to win a copy of Invisible Chains by Benjamin Perrin!