Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn


This book changed my life and it should be at the top of everyone TBR list this year. Written by husband and wife Pulitzer prize-winning duo Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, Half the Sky is a captivating book about the oppression of women in the developing world, mainly Africa and Asia, allowing “us to see that the key to economic progress lies in unleashing women’s potential.”

In the introduction, Kristof and WuDunn admit that they both felt they’d failed as journalists because although they can expertly cover “events that happen on a particular day, we slip at covering events that happen every day.”

I was relieved I didn’t seem to be the only one in the dark about the subject of this book, but this made it all the more obvious that this is a book I needed to have been reading.

“In the nineteenth century, the central moral challenge was slavery. In the twentieth century, it was the battle against totalitarianism. We believe that in this century the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for gender equality in the developing world.”

Through the telling of heart-wrenching profiles of the abuses and oppression of young women they have interviewed (the dozen or so stories in this book are but a fraction of a fraction of the statistics of girls who die daily from what they term gendercide) they stress the central “truth” that “women aren’t the problem but the solution. The plight of girls is no more a tragedy than an opportunity.”

Calling attention to these atrocities is something we are in dire need of, but Kristoff and WuDunn take it one step further and illustrate the ways in which economic progress and poverty can be eliminated in al countries. Yes, it is possible. It lies in unleashing women’s potential. Think about how many struggling countries who are dealing poor economies could be thriving if they only utilized the 50% of their workforce that is being oppressed.

A great example they provided was Bill and Melinda Gates’ project of making condoms more available in Africa.

Okay well…this doesn’t exactly do anything to change the culture in Africa to that of emphasizing that rape is intolerable and that there should be severed consequences for me who commit heinous crimes against women. In fact, it does nothing to help. It sends the message that it’s okay to still have nonconsensual sex just as long as you’re wearing a condom, which of course no one will do. Here’s something Kristof and WuDunn recommend: donate money to provide more uniforms to school aged girls in Africa.

It is not uncommon for girls to grow out of their uniforms, be unable to buy new ones when the school year starts, and inevitably end up having to drop out of school. If money and support goes to ensuring girls have access to uniforms, they are more likely to finish school and potentially continue on to college. It is proven that education is the key to success, we all know that by now. It is considerably less likely for a woman of high education to fall into the cycle of oppression. So it baffles me that someone as supposedly as intelligent as the Gates’ wouldn’t invest their money in the key to helping Africa or any developing country: it’s women.

At any rate, as Anne Rice said in her review “it is impossible to exaggerate the importance of this book.”

Although I would recommend this book to anyone (and Emma Watson adding it to Our Shared Shelf will certainly secure its fate in reaching many more hands this year) I would caution younger readers to have a trust adult nearby as you’re reading. The final chapter offers ways you can help, and what you can do right now from your computer; they’ve done the work for you and provided names and websites of who best to contact and how best you can help. Even if it’s something as simple as reading the book and signing up for email alerts from womensnews.org, that is still a perfect place to start.

Today there is a massive Women’s March taking place in Washington D.C., along with hundreds of sister marches across the country and worldwide. I thought it would be a fitting day to post my review of this book, as women’s rights and human rights are at the forefront of my attention at this moment. If you (like me) have been struggling to avoid the news lately, I promise you that tuning into this magnificent march is worthy of your attention.

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