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.
First Published: 2010
Score: 4.5 out of 5