Book Recommendation from a Friend: Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn

by Michelle Brock on July 28th, 2011

RoxanneA 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.

half the skyBack cover synopsis:

“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
  • Nauseous
  • 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.

nicholassheryl1Three women in the book whose stories captured my heart: Momm, Neth, and Mahabouba.  I hope you read the book so you can meet them too!

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!

Michelle Brock

***Photographers, send in your photos on this theme for a chance to win a copy of Invisible Chains by Benjamin Perrin!

Tania Fiolleau and Tara Teng Discuss Human Trafficking on BYLINE with Brian Lilley

by Michelle Brock on July 25th, 2011

These two amazing women are part of the Ignite the Road to Justice tour that is travelling across Canada in August and September.  The sound in this video clip is not the best, but gives a great introduction to the issues around sex trafficking and prostitution.

Get more information about the tour here, and check out my interview with Tara Teng to hear her heart on this issue.  I hope you can attend one of the events!

Michelle Brock

***Photographers, send in your photos on this theme for a chance to win a copy of Invisible Chains by Benjamin Perrin!

 

Waxed Eyebrows, Post-Its on Foreheads & the Importance of Story-Telling

by Michelle Brock on July 21st, 2011

Sometimes I wish that the top 5 most life-shaping experiences of every person on this earth was written on their forehead. Let me expand on this by asking a few probing questions:

motivesHave you ever seen someone begging for money on the street, leaving you uncomfortable and hesitant as you try to figure out what their actual circumstances and motivations are?

Have you ever been hurt by someone and wondered how a person can become so cruel?

Have you ever been surprised to discover a secret about someone that is close to you?

If we all had the top 5 details about our lives written on our foreheads, these situations would be a bit easier to navigate through.   Was he abused as a child?  Did her father abandon the family?  Did she come from a wealthy home?  Did he have a terrible accident?

Fortunately, relationships can offer a safe haven for those stories to come out, one-by-one. Sadly, there are many stories that are left untold. I am about to tell you one.

Two weeks ago, after being too busy for months to perform any kind of maintenance on my eyebrows, I went in for a wax. As I tried not to focus on my burning forehead between strips, the aesthetician shared a story that has haunted me since.

Her husband used to work with a guy who was dating a woman from Hungary. Lack of job opportunities had brought this woman to Canada, and once she arrived she soon realized she could make decent money stripping. So she worked at a local strip club, made a living, and began dating the Canadian man I already mentioned.

Eventually her visa expired and she returned to Hungary. She did not want to strip anymore but realized it was her only “employment experience.” This pushed her into the Hungarian sex trade. After a while a group of Arab men approached her with a promise to make way more money in Western Europe, and she took the bait. She would make enough money to finally get out of the trade.

Three years ago her boyfriend in Canada received a phone call. It was her. She sounded terrified, explaining that she was locked up somewhere in Europe, and that people were speaking German. No one has heard from her since.

What keeps coming to mind again and again is that stripping stripped her of choice, despite it being her decision at first.  She began to believe the lie that she is was only good for sex, and that real dreams were no longer attainable.  This eventually led her into a place where no person ever wants to find themselves.  When you feel no worth and are blinded by lack of opportunity, you become easy prey for predators.

storiesI’ve been thinking a lot about this woman.  I don’t know her name.  I don’t know if she is dead or alive. But I am saddened that her story, whatever it is in its fullness, is not being told.  I would hope that if I vanished off the face of the earth, people would still think of me.  In telling her story, we acknowledge her existence and honour her memory.

“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” -Rudyard Kipling

Michelle Brock

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Ignite the Road to Justice Tour Coming to a City Near You!

by Michelle Brock on July 18th, 2011

I am on the planning team for Toronto’s event, so let me know through the contact section if you want to help us make a big splash in the GTA!  I will keep you all posted on event details as they form. Here are the locations and dates:

roadVancouver: August 15th
Kamloops: August 16th
Edmonton: August 18th
Calgary: August 19th
Regina: August 21st
Winnipeg: August 23rd
Thunder Bay: August 24th
Ottawa: August 28th & 29th
Ste. Catharines: August 31st
Greater Toronto: Sept. 1st – Sept 4th

If you would like more details or help run an event, check out the Ignite the Road to Justice website.

Michelle Brock

***Photographers, send in your photos on this theme for a chance to win a copy of Invisible Chains by Benjamin Perrin!

Calling All Photographers: Enter Your Photo for a Chance to Win a Copy of "Invisible Chains" by Benjamin Perrin!

by Michelle Brock on July 14th, 2011

taking picturesA couple months ago I did a photo essay here at Hope for the Sold, themed Vulnerability.  I received some fantastic photos and am excited to do a second one with a new theme!  If you like photography and want to sumbit a photo, here are the details:

Theme:  Resilience. Keep in mind that this is a blog about sex trafficking, so I am looking for photos that portray resilience in reference to that (ie. a picture of a soccer match victory probably would not be what I’m looking for!).

Your picture can be self explanatory, metaphorical, abstract, or anything in between.  If you are an artist and wish to submit a photo of your piece of art, those are welcome as well.

Submission limit: Up to 2 photos per person.

The deal: Your photos will be posted on the HFTS blog, along with your name and website or blog if you have one.  I am giving away one signed copy of Invisible Chains: Canada’s Underground World of Human Trafficking by Benjamin Perrin.  Each photo submission will receive an entry into the draw. When the post goes up, readers will be asked to comment on what their favourite photo is and why. Each person who comments will also have their name entered into the draw.

photographerSubmission Deadline: Thursday August 4, 2011

Why a photo essay? Because I can write all I want, but sometimes it is a picture that truly resonates with a person and moves them to action.

If you’d like to make a submission, let me know in one of the following ways:

  • Commenting under this post
  • Sending a message to me via the contact section with the subject title: Resilience

I will then contact you with a couple more details.  Can’t wait to see what you come up with!

Know any friends who love taking pictures?  Make sure to send this their way too!

Michelle Brock

Meet an Abolitionist: Melody Cameron Talks About How Stella’s House is Helping Orphans in Moldova

by Michelle Brock on July 11th, 2011

A few weeks ago I shared a video about Stella’s House, a home for vulnerable teenagers in Moldova.  The video is worth posting again, as it sets up today’s interview with Melody Cameron, the mission director at Stella’s Voice.

If you were to describe Moldova in 5 words, what would they be?

Broken, Forgotten, Changing, Potential, Promise.

europe map moldova 235x300It seems that many children in Eastern European orphanages experience abuse and neglect while they are there. You would think that orphanage workers would be there because they want to love – not abuse – so why is the trend the exact opposite?

In Moldova, orphans comprise a caste all their own. Living in the poorest country in Europe, the unhappiest nation on the planet, amongst the highest alcoholic population of the world, they are the lowest of the low… a despised section of a broken society, a nuisance, and a burden. When an entire nation is struggling just to survive, there is no place for niceties and generosity of heart or resources.

I would dare say many of the workers in the orphanage workers aren’t interested in children at all, but are simply working for the money. Moldova has astronomical unemployment recorded anywhere between 65-80%, so they work for a job, not because they are passionate about what they do.

Plus, I would imagine when you have no control over your life, but are instead controlled by hunger and desperation and the need to exist, when you find something as easy to control as a young vulnerable orphan with no one to vouch for them, you would take advantage of the situation in order to have some semblance of power.

Having said all that, though, there exist teachers who truly do care for the kids in Moldova’s orphanages and want to help and teach them. When we took over the running of a village orphanage this past year, we went to the kids who grew up under the supervision of the teachers there and asked their opinion of the workers. Were they good to the kids, did they care about their schooling, were they interested in their well being?

Many of the kids told stories of verbal abuse, physical abuse and drunkenness on the part of the teachers while at work at the orphanage . But amongst those were stories of good as well, and we hired those who truly cared for the kids and informed those who didn’t why they were not returning to work under the ‘new management.’ For the kids that grew up subjected to those horrible situations, it must be retribution for the teachers’ years of cruel actions.

moldova3What makes girls in Moldova specifically vulnerable to trafficking?

Poverty is the number one reason for girls anywhere in the world being trafficked. They are seeking a way to support themselves and their family. Because there is no work to be had in Moldova, they must find work elsewhere. There is so much potential for bogus agencies and organized criminals to take advantage of that fact. Broken family situations, due to alcoholism and poverty make way for parents or other family members to sell their own girls to traffickers as well. And to add to the situation, Moldovan women are considered some of the most beautiful in the world.

stellas voice1How many girls have been helped through Stella’s House?

Around 70 girls have come to live in Stella’s House since it’s beginning in 2006. When they come to stay at Stella’s, they MUST go to school. Some stay for a year, some four years, and some even longer. We do not limit how long they are with us, but they stay until they complete their studies and are able to support themselves. Also, we now we have a home for boys, called Simon’s House, which currently holds fifteen. When our next two homes are completed, they will house an additional fifty girls.

Is there a particular success story that motivates you to keep going?

All of the girls living in our homes are success stories. The fact that they have the capacity to love and be part of a family despite all the things they have experienced is incredible. But beyond that, a large part of them are focusing their studies in order to continue the work of Stella’s House: they are becoming architects, interior designers, lawyers, teachers, journalists so that they can help other girls and boys like them. That, to us, is the epitome of success. You can’t ask for more than that.

What project or initiative of yours can people support today, and why is it important?

There are thousands of orphans that need someone to give the opportunity of family, education, love, and hope. Our vision and dream is to have enough Stella’s and Simon’s Houses for each of the 12,000 orphan Moldovan girls and boys to come once they are forced out of the orphanage. We have the solution to keep them from being trafficked across the world, we just lack the funds to build and maintain enough homes to make it happen. Each home costs $500,000 to build and furnish and $15,000 per month to keep going. We provide EVERYTHING for the teens under our roof. Bus money alone for getting the kids to school costs us $3,000 per month.

moldova stellas house buildings

This summer, a group of our girls are traveling with us across the country telling their stories and how Stella’s House has saved their lives. We are hoping, by the end of summer, to have raised the $1,000,000 needed to build our third and fourth homes. We also have registries at Target and WalMart with furnishings and linens for the homes.

Stella’s House was started to give girls somewhere safe to come once they left the orphanage. But it has evolved into so much more than that. We teach girls simple things like housekeeping and cooking, which they never learned growing up in an orphanage. They never used microwaves, stoves or vacuum cleaners before they came. Furthermore, they are learning that physical abuse is not normal and NOT acceptable, although it is considered so in Moldovan culture. They are finding self worth, purpose for their life, and compassion for others as well.

We truly believe that the girls of Stella’s House, and the boys from Simon’s House will change the face of the nation. One by one they will affect the people they come in contact with and leave their mark in the world they live. It is such an honor and privilege to be a part of the miracle that is taking place, and we want others to be a part as well!

melody cThanks so much Melody for sharing your important work and inspiring vision with us!  And thank you Philip for facilitating the info for this interview so I could get it up quickly.  It is great to know that there are people in Moldova loving, serving, and helping those who most need it.

Wanna support these amazing people are doing?  Learn more about Stella’s House here.  There are some cool ways to get involved:

Michelle Brock

So I Got An Email From a John This Week…

by Michelle Brock on July 7th, 2011

thought cloudI get quite a bit of interesting feedback from this blog, and one group of individuals is particularly eager to send in their thoughts: Johns.  For those of you who are unfamilar with the term, Johns are men who use prostituted women.  As such, they are the ones who fuel the demand for paid sex and make trafficking profitable for pimps and traffickers.

I’ll have you know that I usually delete these comments when I get them, because they are disturbing, disgusting, and not worth my time.  But I thought I would share one comment I received recently, to show you how these guys think.  If we are to help the exploited, we must have at least a basic understanding of what motivates the men who exploit them.  Here is what one man writes:

I don’t care if you women get mad at me or not. If an attractive (to me) woman were available to me with the most ideal physical looks and personality that I would marry, then I would marry and not cheat and not use a prostitute. In reality, most women are not that attractive, especially the average woman whatever that is or means.

In reality, most women have a relatively low libido. Men end-up sexually frustrated. Congressman John Edwards cheated. Former governor and actor, Arnold Schwarzenegger cheated. Former IMF chief, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, cheated. In the past, men have cheated, men ARE cheating, and men WILL CONTINUE to cheat until the female population has been bred and culled into the most ideal such that cheating and prostitution are eliminated. The key word here is ‘until’ and both sexes/genders can make it happen sooner or a lot later by cooperating or otherwise.

As you know, we’re currently in Great Recession that (as the media had stated) had ended in 2009. I don’t see a glimmer of light at the end of this tunnel, so the next phase is logically a Great Depression or, to distinguish from the last depression, a Great-ER Depression and, with that, women will (as before) have no alternative and no exit strategy.

If I had (at home) a clean drug/disease-free, tattoo-free, addiction/vice-free June Cleaver with perky/firm natural C cups, some curves, beautiful without makeup, with an intelligent/logical brain with which to converse with as a husband and wife should do you really think I’m going to look out on the street for a Jane Doe to hump for money?  There is demand for prostitution for a reason: not enough supply.

Surprised? This is exactly the kind of thinking that traffickers and pimps use to their advantage. Makes my blood boil.

  • This guy talks about women as if they are commodities for men to use as they wish.  This implies women have no opinions, preferences, or wishes themselves, but solely exist for man’s pleasure and fantasy.
  • He picks and chooses his ideal traits from women as a whole and expects one woman to have them all if he is to be faithful to her.  Notice how he never mentions what qualities men should have to deserve a woman’s affection.
  • “Men will continue to cheat until women have been bred and culled into the ideal form???”  Sounds like Hitler.  It scares me that this way of thinking is still around.
  • Just because the economy always leaves vulnerable people in its wake does not give him an excuse to take advantage of them.
  • To answer his last question, yes, he would still look for prostituted women even if he had the ideal girl at home because she would never be enough.  When you become this selfish, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.
  • FYI: there is demand for prostitution because guys like this don’t care who they hurt as long as they get what they want, not because of “lack of supply.”

respect women 1And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the kind of guy that is using and abusing victims of sex trafficking. It sickens me, saddens me, and enrages me. How can we, as a society, change the way guys like this think?  Do you think it’s too late?  Where do you think this man learned to view women this way?  Do you think he would care if he found out the girl he was with was a victim of sex trafficking?  How does such a worldview impact communities?

Would love to hear your thoughts and your reaction to this letter.  Anyone else disturbed? What can we do about it?

Michelle Brock

Don’t Have $50,000 to Give? Transitions Global Needs Your VOTE!

by Michelle Brock on July 4th, 2011

Check out this video from Transitions Global and VOTE HERE for them to win a grant for up to $50,000 for their girls program! Every vote counts! It is very quick and easy so do it now.

Michelle Brock

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