Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn – Book Review

This was a book that really changed my perception of what I thought I knew about women’s issues. I have mentioned before that I have a very North American perspective on things, which is to say that for me it seems that many of the issues that woman are facing today are mostly about dignity and equality and not so much about oppression and lack of rights. By saying that, I’m probably showing how little I really know about these issues, but if you are looking for a book that will slap you in the face with the reality of the problems you may not know about that are going on in the world today, this would be the book to do it.

It’s not to say that this is a “bad” book. It’s not. It’s extremely well written and researched and is by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn who are the first married couple to be winners of the Pulitzer prize in journalism. As journalists, they have excellent tools in which to show what it’s like to be a woman living in a developing country with stories from real women who have lived through things that most of us probably would never want to imagine, let alone have to overcome. The worst part about it is that these stories aren’t isolated freak occurrences, but average pictures in the lives of everyday women who live in areas without the essential rights that many take for granted. It really makes the difficulties in my own life go beyond the pale and become invisible by comparison. One haunting quote from the first chapter, which is a bit more quote within a quote, is this:

The Lancet, a prominent medical journal in Britain, calculated that “1 million children are forced into prostitution every year and the total number of prostituted children could be as high as 10 million.” Antitrafficking campaigners tend to use higher numbers, such as 27 million modern slaves.”

Although some slaves are men, the gross majority of these cases are women and children simply because they tend to be the ones without rights.

Although this book deals with subjects that are extremely difficult, the courage and honesty in the telling of these stories can’t be ignored. The other thing that you can’t help but find, which may seem surprising in a book about this kind of human horror, is hope. In countless stories you see how single people can overcome ridiculous adversities, and how others from the developed world can spearhead change based on hearing these stories and being moved by them. If that’s all it takes to get someone involved to stop these vicious circles then it means this book is truly worth reading. Lofty a goal as it may seem, it could actually help motivate people to change the world.

Half the Sky also underscores how important it is not to ignore all the potential that can come from treating a woman with equality and giving them the same opportunities that are lavished upon men, who are often considered to be the future breadwinners more because of an appendage they sport than of the motivation they have to achieve. This mentality, which prevails in the developing world, creates a kind of Cinderella like cage for the women who grow up there, forcing them to watch their brothers as Cinderella watched her step sisters. When told you can’t have something, how much greater is your desire to obtain it? When told you are nothing, how much more is your wish to show people they are wrong? When put in a box, how much pressure builds in ones heart to escape it? When given the same tools, just imagine what these women could do.

Are you looking for motivation to change the world? To find a charity in the developing world that is making good things finally seem obtainable? Do you want to take off the veil and really look into the abyss? Try reading Half the Sky.

And, if reading isn’t your thing, you can also look for the 4 hour television series by PBS which recently aired in the US on October 1st and 2nd but will be available internationally by 2013, or sooner (if you watch things on iTunes or Netflix) as noted from their website. And as always, you can check out the trailer below: