Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

By Nicholas D. Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn
Binding:Hardcover
Publisher:Knopf, (9/8/2009)
Language:English



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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 Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas D. 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 their combined reporting experience, Kristof and WuDunn depict our world with anger, sadness, clarity, and, ultimately, hope.

They show how a little help can transform the lives of women and girls abroad. That Cambodian girl eventually escaped from her brothel and, with assistance from an aid group, built a thriving retail business that supports her family. The Ethiopian woman had her injuries repaired and in time became a surgeon. A Zimbabwean mother of five, counseled to return to school, earned her doctorate and became an expert on AIDS.

Through these stories, Kristof and WuDunn help us see that the key to economic progress lies in unleashing women’s potential. They make clear how so many people have helped to do just that, and how we can each do our part. Throughout much of the world, the greatest unexploited economic resource is the female half of the population. Countries such as China have prospered precisely because they emancipated women and brought them into the formal economy. Unleashing that process globally is not only the right thing to do; it’s also the best strategy for fighting poverty.

Deeply felt, pragmatic, and inspirational, Half the Sky is essential reading for every global citizen.
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Harriet's thoughts on "Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide"
updated on:11/17/2009



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"Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide"
By Nicholas D. Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn

Average Rating:
Very Unleashable
4.00 out of 5 (1 Clubie's ratings)


The Gentleman
The Gentleman
By Forrest Leo

 
 
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From The Washington Post
From The Washington Post's Book World/washingtonpost.com Reviewed by Carolyn See "Half the Sky" is either one of the most important books I have ever reviewed, or it is reportage about a will-o'-the-wisp movement destined to end up in the footnotes of history. Frankly, I'm too stunned by the density of information and the high quality of the prose here to know for sure which it is. You'll have to judge for yourselves. Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn have been journalists for years. As a married couple, they covered the Tiananmen massacre and were appalled by the dramatic loss of human life. But as they continued their work in developing countries, they discovered that the most dreadful suffering happened in the daily lives of poor, mostly village women. Keep reading! This book isn't a sermon, and neither is this review. These Pulitzer Prize-winning authors see the treatment of women in developing countries as the great story of this century, a moral issue, sure, but also as an economic one. What if by oppressing half their population, countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East have been shooting themselves in their collective foot? "Women hold up half the sky," the Chinese saying goes, and in fact -- the authors argue -- one of the reasons China has emerged as such an impressive power in the past decades may be because of the "Girl Effect," the millions of girls who have flocked to factories, sparking a revolution in that country. (Yes, those factories are no picnic, but they're better than the alternative: hobbling about on bound feet, as WuDunn's grandmother did.) But in other countries, women may be gang-raped if they leave the house; they're beaten daily, sold into brothels or married off as little children. They're stoned to death in the Middle East for infringements on the family honor or burned to death in India over dowry spats. Acid is thrown in their faces; they endure genital cutting and ghastly fistulas or internal ruptures from botched births. The authors handle this grim material by telling us just a handful of horrible stories at a time, based on their own extensive interviews. Then they leaven these sad tales with profiles of women who have endured rape, beatings or medical afflictions but have managed to found a school or a hospital or a small business that lifted them and those around them out of poverty and despair. These stories are electrifying and have the effect of breaking down this enormous problem into segments the reader can focus on. Suddenly, these horrendous problems begin to seem solvable. There's the story of the lowly Pakistani girl who was raped by men from a higher caste. They expected her to go home and kill herself, as was the custom in her village, but she applied for redress and caught the attention of then-President Pervez Musharraf, who sent her $8,300 in compensation. Instead of being eternally grateful and shutting up, she started a school, learning to read and write along with her students. The attention she brought to the issue of rape in Pakistan sent Musharraf into conniption fits, and she was hounded mercilessly by the government. But Musharraf is gone now, and the school still thrives. Kristof and WuDunn also tell of a girl in Ethiopia who suffered a fistula during her first pregnancy. She made her way to the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital, got sewn up so she was no longer a "modern-day leper," and then stayed around to make beds and assist the surgeon. Eventually, she learned to do fistula operations herself. She's still learning to read and write, but elite surgeons now learn medical techniques from her. Big governments and big charities -- with the exception of CARE, which has recently focused its attention on girls and women -- are seen only faintly in these pages. The authors tend to focus instead on individual Westerners who had an "aha" moment, from distinguished public health physicians to high school girls who learned something about the situation and felt they had to help. The authors call them "social entrepreneurs" and admire them greatly. But they chide American feminists for being more interested in Title IX sports programs and inappropriate office touching than the plight of their sisters in the developing world. And they acknowledge that women are often implicated in institutionalized oppression, too. Again, this book is not a sermon about victims. Its range is wide, and sometimes it's even funny. In a wonderful, mordantly amusing chapter about big groups trying to impose their views on cultures they don't understand, the authors describe fundamentalist Christians trying as hard as they can to prevent contraception, and secular elites trying as hard as they can to advance it. But, as Kristof and WuDunn remind us, if you're down-and-out in a Congolese jungle, the Christian missionaries will be the ones there to provide you with food and medication. "Half the Sky" is a call to arms, a call for help, a call for contributions, but also a call for volunteers. It asks us to open our eyes to this enormous humanitarian issue. It does so with exquisitely crafted prose and sensationally interesting material. It provides us with a list of individual hospitals, schools and small charities so that we can contribute to, or at least inform ourselves about, this largely unknown world. I really do think this is one of the most important books I have ever reviewed. I may be wrong, but I don't think so.
Copyright 2009, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved. 

Review
** 'A brilliantly argued case for investing in the health and autonomy of women worldwide ... Far from making moral appeals, the authors posit that it is impossible for countries to climb out of poverty if only a fraction of women participate in the labour force ... The authors reveal local women to be the most effective change agents' Publishers' Weekly (starred review) ** 'This wonderful book combines a denunciation of horrible abuses with clear-eyed hope and some compelling practical strategies. The courageous women described here, and millions more like them, deserve nothing less' THE NEW YORK TIMES --This text refers to the Paperbackedition. 

Review
"This book isn't a sermon . . . These stories are electrifying and have the effect of breaking down this enormous problem into segments the reader can focus on. Suddenly, these horrendous problems begin to seem solvable . . . Again, this book is not a sermon about victims. Its range is wide, and sometimes it's even funny . . . Half the Sky is a call to arms, a call for help, a call for contributions, but also a call for volunteers. It asks us to open our eyes to this enormous humanitarian issue. It does so with exquisitely crafted prose and sensationally interesting material . . . I really do think this is one of the most important books I have ever reviewed."
            -Carolyn See, The Washington Post
 
"Passionate yet practical . . . [Half the Sky] is both stirring and sensible . . . This wonderful book combines a denunciation of horrible abuses with clear-eyed hope and some compelling practical strategies.  The courageous women described here, and millions more like them, deserve nothing less."
            -Martha Nussbaum, The New York Times
 
"Women facing poverty, oppression, and violence are usually viewed as victims.  Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn's Half the Sky shows that unimaginable challenges are often met with breathtaking bravery.  These stories show us the power and resilience of women who would have every reason to give up but never do.  They will be an inspiration for anyone who reads this book, and a model for those fighting for justice around the world.  You will not want to put this book down."
            -Angelina Jolie
 
"I read Half the Sky in one sitting, staying up until 3 a.m. to do so.  It is brilliant and inspirational, and I want to shout about it from the rooftops and mountains.  It vividly illustrates how women have turned despair into prosperity and bravely nurtured hope to cultivate a bright future.  The book ends with an especially compelling 'What you can do' to exhort us all to action."
            -Greg Mortenson, author, Three Cups of Tea
 
"If you have always wondered whether you can change the world, read this book.  Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn have written a brilliant call to arms that describes one of the transcendent injustices in the world today—the brutal treatment of women.  They take you to many countries, introduce you to extraordinary women, and tell you their moving tales.  Throughout, the tone is practical not preachy and the book's suggestions as to how you can make a difference are simple, sensible, and yet powerful.  The authors vividly describe a terrible reality about the world we live in but they also provide light and hope that we can, in fact, change it."
            -Fareed Zakaria, author, The Post-American World
 
"I think it's impossible to stand by and do nothing after reading Half the Sky.  It does what we need most, it bears witness to the sheer cruelty that mankind can do to mankind."
            -George Clooney
 
"It's impossible to exaggerate the importance of this book about one of the most serious problems of our time: the worldwide abuse and exploitation of women.  In addition to describing the injustices, Kristof and WuDunn show how concerned individuals everywhere are working effectively to empower women and help them overcome adversity.  Wonderfully written and vividly descriptive, Half the Sky can and should galvanize support for reform on all levels.  Inspiring as it is shocking, this book demands to be read."  
-Anne Rice
 
"Half the Sky is a passionate and persuasive plea to all of us to rise up and say 'No more!' to the 17th-century abuses to girls and women in the 21st-century world.  This is a book that will pierce your heart and arouse your conscience.  It is a powerful piece of journalism by two masters of the craft who are tireless in their pursuit of one of the most shameful conditions of our time."
            -Tom Brokaw
 
"The stories that Kristof and WuDunn share are as powerful as they are heartbreaking.  Their insight into gender issues and the role of women in development inspires hope, optimism, and most importantly, the will to change.  Both a brutal awakening and an unmistakable call to action, this book should be read by all."
            -Melinda Gates
 
"An unblinking look at one of the seminal moral challenges of our time.  This stirring book is at once a savage indictment of gender inequality in the developing world and an inspiring testament to these women's courage, resilience, and their struggle for hope and recovery.  An unexpectedly uplifting read."
            -Khaled Hosseini, author, The Kite Runner
 
"While we rightly roared at racial apartheid, we act as though gender apartheid is a natural, immutable fact.  With absolutely the right Molotov cocktail of on-the-ground reporting and hard social science, Kristof and WuDunn blow up this taboo . . . A thrilling manifesto for advancing freedom for hundreds of millions of human beings."
            -Johann Hari, Slate.com
 
"Superb . . . As Rachel Carson's Silent Spring once catalyzed us to save our birds and better steward our earth, Half the Sky stands to become a classic, spurring us to spare impoverished women these terrors, and elevate them to turn around the future of their nations."
            -Susan Ager, Cleveland Plain Dealer
 
"[A] gripping call to conscience . . . Poignant portraits of survivors humanize the issues."
            -Irshad Manji, The New York Times Book Review
 
"Stunning . . . [Half the Sky] belongs on the 'must-read' list because it offers perspective, insight, and clear-eyed optimism for why and how each of us can and should meet one of the great moral and humanitarian challenges of our times."
            -Bill Gates, Sr., The Huffington Post
  


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Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
INTRODUCTION

The Girl Effect

What would men be without women? Scarce, sir, mighty scarce.

— MARK TWAIN



Srey Rath is a self-confident Cambodian teenager whose black hair tumbles over a round, light brown face. She is in a crowded street market, standing beside a pushcart and telling her story calmly, with detachment. The only hint of anxiety or trauma is the way she often pushes her hair from in front of her black eyes, perhaps a nervous tic. Then she lowers her hand and her long fingers gesticulate and flutter in the air with incongruous grace as she recounts her odyssey.

Rath is short and small-boned, pretty, vibrant, and bubbly, a wisp of a girl whose negligible stature contrasts with an outsized and outgoing personality.When the skies abruptly release a tropical rain shower that drenches us, she simply laughs and rushes us to cover under a tin roof, and then cheerfully continues her story as the rain drums overhead. But Rath's attractiveness and winning personality are perilous bounties for a rural Cambodian girl, and her trusting nature and optimistic self-assuredness compound the hazard.

When Rath was fifteen, her family ran out of money, so she decided to go work as a dishwasher in Thailand for two months to help pay the bills. Her parents fretted about her safety, but they were reassured when Rath arranged to travel with four friends who had been promised jobs in the same Thai restaurant.The job agent took the girls deep into Thailand and then handed them to gangsters who took them to Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. Rath was dazzled by her first glimpses of the city's clean avenues and gleaming high-rises, including at the time the world's tallest twin buildings; it seemed safe and welcoming. But then thugs sequestered Rath and two other girls inside a karaoke lounge that operated as a brothel. One gangster in his late thirties, a man known as "the boss," took charge of the girls and explained that he had paid money for them and that they would now be obliged to repay him."You must find money to pay off the debt, and then I will send you back home," he said, repeatedly reassuring them that if they cooperated they would eventually be released.

Rath was shattered when what was happening dawned on her. The boss locked her up with a customer, who tried to force her to have sex with him. She fought back, enraging the customer. "So the boss got angry and hit me in the face, first with one hand and then with the other," she remembers, telling her story with simple resignation. "The mark stayed on my face for two weeks." Then the boss and the other gangsters raped her and beat her with their fists.

"You have to serve the customers," the boss told her as he punched her. "If not, we will beat you to death. Do you want that?" Rath stopped protesting, but she sobbed and refused to cooperate actively. The boss forced her to take a pill; the gangsters called it "the happy drug" or "the shake drug." She doesn't know exactly what it was, but it made her head shake and induced lethargy, happiness, and compliance for about an hour.When she wasn't drugged, Rath was teary and insufficiently compliant—she was required to beam happily at all customers—so the boss said he would waste no more time on her: She would agree to do as he ordered or he would kill her. Rath then gave in.The girls were forced to work in the brothel seven days a week, fifteen hours a day. They were kept naked to make it more difficult for them to run away or to keep tips or other money, and they were forbidden to ask customers to use condoms. They were battered until they smiled constantly and simulated joy at the sight of customers, because men would not pay as much for sex with girls with reddened eyes and haggard faces.The girls were never allowed out on the street or paid a penny for their work.

"They just gave us food to eat, but they didn't give us much because the customers didn't like fat girls," Rath says. The girls were bused, under guard, back and forth between the brothel and a tenth-floor apartment where a dozen of them were housed.The door of the apartment was locked from the outside. However, one night, some of the girls went out onto their balcony and pried loose a long, five-inch-wide board from a rack used for drying clothes. They balanced it precariously between their balcony and one on the next building, twelve feet away. The board wobbled badly, but Rath was desperate, so she sat astride the board and gradually inched across.

"There were four of us who did that," she says."The others were too scared, because it was very rickety. I was scared, too, and I couldn't look down, but I was even more scared to stay.We thought that even if we died, it would be better than staying behind. If we stayed, we would die as well."

Once on the far balcony, the girls pounded on the window and woke the surprised tenant.They could hardly communicate with him because none of them spoke Malay, but the tenant let them into his apartment and then out its front door.The girls took the elevator down and wandered the silent streets until they found a police station and stepped inside.The police first tried to shoo them away, then arrested the girls for illegal immigration. Rath served a year in prison under Malaysia's tough anti-immigrant laws, and then she was supposed to be repatriated. She thought a Malaysian policeman was escorting her home when he drove her to the Thai border—but then he sold her to a trafficker, who peddled her to a Thai brothel.


Rath's saga offers a glimpse of the brutality inflicted routinely on women and girls in much of the world, a malignancy that is slowly gaining recognition as one of the paramount human rights problems of this century.

The issues involved, however, have barely registered on the global agenda. Indeed,when we began reporting about international affairs in the 1980s, we couldn't have imagined writing this book.We assumed that the foreign policy issues that properly furrowed the brow were lofty and complex, like nuclear nonproliferation. It was difficult back then to envision the Council on Foreign Relations fretting about maternal mortality or female genital mutilation.Back then, the oppression of women was a fringe issue, the kind of worthy cause the Girl Scouts might raise money for. We preferred to probe the recondite "serious issues."

So this book is the outgrowth of our own journey of awakening as we worked together as journalists for The New York Times. The
first milestone in that journey came in China. Sheryl is a Chinese-American who grew up in New York City, and Nicholas is an Oregonian who grew up on a sheep and cherry farm near Yamhill, Oregon. After we married, we moved to China, where seven months later we found ourselves standing on the edge of Tiananmen Square watching troops fire their automatic weapons at prodemocracy protesters. The massacre claimed between four hundred and eight hundred lives and transfixed the world. It was the human rights story of the year, and it seemed just about the most shocking violation imaginable.

Then, the following year, we came across an obscure but meticulous demographic study that outlined a human rights violation that had claimed tens of thousands more lives.This study found that thirty-nine thousand baby girls die annually in China because parents don't give them the same medical care and attention that boys receive—and that is just in the first year of life. One Chinese family-planning official, Li Honggui, explained it this way: "If a boy gets sick, the parents may send him to the hospital at once. But if a girl gets sick, the parents may say to themselves, 'Well, let's see how she is tomorrow.' "The result is that as many infant girls die unnecessarily every week in China as protesters died in the one incident at Tiananmen. Those Chinese girls
never received a column inch of news coverage, and we began to wonder if our journalistic priorities were skewed.

A similar pattern emerged in other countries, particularly in South Asia and the Muslim world. In India, a "bride burning"—to punish a woman for an inadequate dowry or to eliminate her so a man can remarry—takes place approximately once every two hours, but these rarely constitute news. In the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi, Pakistan, five thousand women and girls have been doused in kerosene and set alight by family members or in-laws—or, perhaps worse, been seared with acid—for perceived disobedience just in the last nine years. Imagine the outcry if the Pakistani or Indian governments were burning women alive at those rates. Yet when the government is not directly involved, people shrug.

When a prominent dissident was arrested in China, we would write a front-page article; when 100,000 girls were routinely kidnapped and trafficked into brothels, we didn't even consider it news. Partly that is because we journalists tend to be good at covering events that happen on a particular day, but we slip at covering events that happen every day—such as the quotidian cruelties inflicted on women and girls.We journalists weren't the only ones who dropped the ball on this subject: Less than 1 percent of U.S. foreign aid is specifically targeted to women and girls.

Amartya Sen, the ebullient Nobel Prize–winning economist, has developed a gauge of gender inequality that is a striking reminder of the stakes involved. "More than 100 million women are missing," Sen wrote in a classic essay in 1990 in The New York Review of Books, spurring a new field of research. Sen noted that in normal circumstances women live longer than men, and so there are more females than males in much of the world. Even poor regions like most of Latin America and much of Africa have more females than males.Yet in places where girls have a deeply unequal status, they vanish. China has 107 males for every 100 females in its overall population (and an even greater disproportion among newborns), India has 108, and Pakistan has 111. This has nothing to do wit...

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