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Book Review: Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

“Women hold up half the sky”- Chinese proverb

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Half the Sky, is the national bestseller by Pulitzer Prize winning authors Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Kristof and WuDunn take readers around the world, looking at the lives of women in nations like India, China, Ethiopia, and Afghanistan. Each chapter looks at a different issue that women face such as maternal mortality, lack of access to education and health care, sexual violence, generational prostitution and lack of economic opportunities. Biographical sketches of women overcoming great obstacles in order to change the lives of women in their communities provide readers with hope to balance out of overwhelming grief one feels as they learn about such atrocities, injustice, and violence against women around the world.

Half the Sky cites Professor Amartya Sen’s research that indicates there are approximately 107 million females missing from the globe today. It estimates that each year another 2 million girls disappear due to gender-based discrimination across the globe. Those girls who are not eliminated prior to birth, due to gender selective abortion, or are killed upon birth for the same reason, are later subjected to higher rates of poverty, neglect, abuse, and violence than their male counterparts. Half the Sky brings into light issues that no one wants to talk about like female genital mutilation and the long-term implications of the practice. The mention of bride burnings spurred me on to learn more about a barbaric practice that claims over 8,000 women’s lives a year in India alone. With each new chapter, my understanding increased regarding how dangerous it can be to be a women in different places around the world. My women’s studies class in college focused solely on the issues of women in the United States such as pay inequality and advertising practices.  While issues that matter, this book awoken me to an entirely new worldview of women.

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In the midst of awakening my heart of gender equality, it stirred in me a passion for justice. Each chapter shared about people and organizations fighting for justice. It provided the chance to locate and support these organizations and individuals. It also helped readers to have a better understanding of what kinds of organizations and approaches have been the most effective. It encouraged me to look into groups that are providing microfinance opportunities to women to start small business because it provided the data behind why these programs are so effective. “Several studies suggest that when women gain control over spending, less family money is devoted to instant gratification and more for education and starting small businesses.” (pg 192)

You’ll meet some amazing women around the world in the pages of Half the Sky. Meet Usha Narayane, Mukhtar Mai, Mamitu Gashe and Gorretti Nyabenda. You will love their stories, their fierceness, and their hope. You will find yourself inspired, and hopefully this new knowledge will drive you to action. Support one of these organizations with a monthly gift, volunteer for them, or start a fundraiser where you can educate people and encourage others to join the cause. Maybe you too will become like one of these women: an agent of change for a world that values women equal to men.

For more information check out Show of Force: Social Good.

Written by Barbara Seidle

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