As we mark the 40 year anniversary of Roe versus Wade, I am reminded of how easy it is to become hyper-focused on our own slice of the globe. Yet, while turning the pages of Half the Sky, I am awakened to the reality of how important it is to focus on women’s rights globally. The facts presented in this book are a wake up call to women activists everywhere. “As many infant girls die every week in China as protesters died in the one incident at Tiananmen” (pg. xiv). At this fact, I am struck by the injustice and saddened by my own lack of knowledge on the subject. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Babies are dying, specifically female babies, because they don’t receive equal medical care. As I turn the page, my sadness turns to outrage.
Authors Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn have made their life out of fighting oppression through spreading truth in print. Half the Sky tells the story of women all over the globe who are not only fighting for power, but are fighting for their lives.
The book opens with the startling story of Meena, an Indian Muslin, who was kidnapped and trafficked at age nine. “I wasn’t even allowed to cry,” Meena remembers. “If even one tear fell, they would beat me. I used to think that it was better to die than to live like this” (pg. 5). Yet, live she did and the world is better for it. Meena is now a community organizer in Forbesgunge, Bihar. Meena works with other parents to advocate for educating their daughters and not fall into the trap of prostitution.
Education is a central theme in Half the Sky, with an emphasis on empowering local women to be the agent of change in their communities. The book highlights women like Mukhtar Mai who was bold enough to report her rape, without bowing to the threat of humiliation commonplace in her Punjab village. When offered financial compensation from Pakistani President, Pervez Musharraf, Mukhtar used the money to create a school in her village. At this school, messages against young marriages and abuse are commonplace. Mukhtar believes that the way to change a society is to educate young men and women.
When Kristof and WuDunn tell first-hand accounts, the result is numbing. In Chapter 7, Why Do Women Die in Childbirth, the authors are confronted with maternal mortality. Prudence received no prenatal care and arrived at a hospital after her birthing attendant “jumped up and down” on her stomach because her cervix was obstructed. When they encountered Prudence at the hospital, she had been left untreated in the hospital for three days. Prudence was being denied an emergency cesarean, because her family was refusing to pay the $100 for surgery. Kristof not only agreed to pay the remaining fee, but donated his own blood for a transfusion. Kristof and WuDunn eagerly awaited the results, but none came. The doctor had gone home for the night, leaving Prudence’s surgery for the next day, a careless act that would end in fatality.
With the heartbreak comes hope. Half the Sky repeatedly breaks a reader down and masterfully inserts a call to action into the empty space. And some of the advice is as shocking as the statistics. “One of the most cost-effective ways to increase school attendance is to deworm students” (pg. 171). “Another tantalizingly simple way to boost girls’ education is to iodize salt” (pg. 172). Heroines are also contained in the pages, such as Edna Adan who opens a maternity hospital in war-torn Somaliland and Jane Roberts whose noble goal is to get 34 million people to each donate $1 to the United Nations Population Fund.
Half the Sky winds its way through issues affecting women worldwide, from trafficking to maternal care to misogyny. Accompanying each startling story or statistic is an equally strong message of hope and change. Authors Kristof and WuDunn educate and inspire their readers to prompt global changes in the treatment of women. The book fittingly concludes with Four Steps You Can Take in the Next Ten Minutes.
Half the Sky is not just a “must read.” It is an inspiring call to action.