Half the Sky is a remarkable, life-changing book. It should be required reading for all adults (and more mature young adults), but especially for us overprivileged, lucky-solely-by-chance-of-birth citizens of the West. If there is ONE book you read this new year, let it be this one.
Using a Chinese proverb attributed to Mao – “Women hold up half the sky” – Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (the first married couple to win a Pulitzer; WuDunn was the first Asian American to garner a Pulitzer while Kristof has since won a second) seek to rescue women and girls worldwide by “focusing on three particular abuses: sex trafficking and forced prostitution; gender-based violence, including honor killings and mass rapes; and maternal mortality, which still needlessly claims one woman a minute.”
Most of us are probably at least vaguely aware of the gender inequalities throughout the world. But laid out in this book in black and white, the numbers are beyond staggering: “…more girls have been killed in the last fifty years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the battles of the twentieth century. More girls are killed in this routine ‘gendercide’ in any one decade than people were slaughtered in all the genocides of the twentieth century.” And lest you think slavery is a thing of the past: ” … far more women and girls are shipped into brothels each year in the early twenty-first century than African slaves were shipped into the slave plantations each year in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries.”
What Kristof and WuDunn miraculously accomplish here is to move beyond the mind-numbing numbers and present you with individual stories that will haunt and inspire you. Reading the experiences of actual women who have suffered unbearable atrocities will make you gasp, and hopefully shock you into real action. Balanced with the specific stories of child prostitutes in Cambodia and India, victims of gang-rape in Pakistan and the Congo, abandoned women in too many places left to die from pregnancy complications, are the phenomenal accounts of women who fought back and reclaimed their lives. Additionally, Kristof and WuDunn weave in the successful experiences of individuals and organizations that have empowered and rescued women throughout the world. From a working woman in New York whose $27 a month provides small miracles for a single mother on the other side of the world, to a wealthy donor whose funding changed the future of an entire village, Half the Sky is not about victimization, but about taking concrete steps to create substantial change.
Kristof and WuDunn’s personal mission is clearly stated up front: “We hope to recruit you to join an incipient movement to emancipate women and fight global poverty by unlocking womens’ power as economic catalyst.” By book’s end, Kristof and WuDunn offer “Four Steps You Can Take in the Next Ten Minutes” filled with near-instant ways you can make a difference. “This is a story of transformation. It is change that is already taking place, and change that can accelerate if you’ll just open your heart and join in.” How can you possibly just sit by?