Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Half The Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn


When I first saw Half The Sky mentioned on Eva's blog, A Striped Armchair, I knew it would be something I would want to read as soon as possible.  It's a non-fiction examination of problems facing women in the developing world and includes issues such as sex trafficking, female genital mutilation, honor killings, maternal health and rape.  The examination of these topics is enhanced by individual accounts of the women Kristof and Wudunn met and also success stories of organisations working at the front line improving lives for women across the world.

Half The Sky is a shocking book.  Even though I knew about most of these issues individually, it was still a shock to read such a comprehensive account of all of them together; when I closed the book I was very grateful to be a British woman living comfortably in the Western world.  The statistics on rape were the ones that really got to me - in the Congo over 90% of women past the age of puberty had been raped, often brutally in a way that meant their health was forever ruined.  I can't even get my head round that statistic.

Kristof and Wudunn make it clear that lots of these problems are easily overcome, that it's an issue around the way women are perceived around the world.  Young girls in families are more likely to be malnourished because what food there is goes to boys.  Women given treatment to prevent them passing on HIV to their newborn children often refuse to use the powdered milk because that's 'not how it's done in their village'.  Improved maternal health is relatively easy to provide, it's just not a priority because women are not seen as a priority.

But despite all of this, Half The Sky isn't all doom and gloom.  There are many stories of women who have overcome terrible situations (one story about a young girl trafficked into being a prostitute and then infected with HIV really got to me) but who have gone on to lead positive lives.  As well as this, there are organisational success stories of normal people saying 'enough is enough' and actually doing something to make the situation better.

Interestingly, Kristof and Wudunn seem to be against traditional aid agencies.  Whilst recognising that they can do a lot of good, the emphasis is on grassroots organisations and the ways that the West can support without 'going in there to sort it all out'.  There are links provided to organisations in the appendix and it's easy for the reader to find ways to support them (I am now offering a microloan through kiva and would recommend it to others).

This kind of book isn't really about the writing but it's clear, accessible and easy to read.  I would recommend this to everyone, male and female as it's something that is worth investing time in.  These issues aren't just women's issues, they are issues facing humanity as a whole.

Verdict: Powerful read about the role of women in the developing world.
Source: Library
First Published: 2010
Score: 4.5 out of 5

14 comments:

  1. This sounds really interesting. I've been having a hard time finding good nonfiction to hold my interest lately, but this definitely sounds like one that would capture my attention.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lisa, it definitely held my attention. Aside from the issues themselves being very interesting, there are many issues presented in short sections for each which I found to be just the right amount of detail.

      Delete
  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  3. sorry about the delete - serious spelling issues :)
    I haven't heard about this book. Thank you for bringing it to our attention. I read a book a few years ago that literally changed the direction of volunteerism in my life "The Road of Lost Innocence" about sex trafficking in Cambodia. Sex trafficking is now the area focus in my women's service organization

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the recommending "The Road of Lost Innocence", I've added it to my wishlist as I am interested in reading more about trafficking. It's shocking how little I knew about it before starting Half The Sky.

      Delete
  4. Wow, Sam. This has been on my to-be-read list for quite sometime, something I wanted to tackle when I lead the women's reading meetings at a progressive health center in Atlanta. Sadly, we never made it that far and the group slowly fell apart. I feel like it's something I really need to read to educate me and get me involved in another way, but there's a small part that is really scared. I'm often affected on a much deeper level when I try to tackle these topics and end up not being so constructive. It seems like this would really test me. I'm glad to see a blogger that I can count on for honest opinions (often similar to my own) giving this book a thumbs up. Thanks for bringing it back on my radar. The 90% you mentioned is incredibly saddening. I also can't really wrap my head around it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Beth, women's reading meeting sounds like a great idea, it's a shame it fell apart as it sounds like you all could have got a lot out of it. The book was very affecting but there was a lot of positivity too, so after reading it I felt like there was hope around all of the issues despite all of the suffering. There's also a list of simple things you can do at home to help that I'm working my way through (check out the kiva.org website if you haven't already) so it's quite a positive experience reading the book in a way. If you do read it, please let me know how you get on.

      Delete
    2. Sam,
      I'll definitely look at the site! I just checked and the library has so many copies, so I'll be snagging one as soon as I tackle what I've already checked out. I'll let you know!

      Delete
  5. I've read sections of this - it was our "one book, one campus" pick for last year, so the library bought many copies. Some of the stories are truly heartbreaking.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sarah, what a great book for your library to invest so much in. Reading it definitely made me appreciate all that I have in my life.

      Delete
  6. I thought this book was incredibly powerful as well. I like the cover you have much better than the US one, though!

    ReplyDelete
  7. I love hanging out here. Keep the good work flowing.


    ___________________
    Smith ofMale Enhancement

    ReplyDelete