This is a “must read” book. There, I said it.
I am a suburban American stay-at-home mom. I have always been well fed and safe. I have 16+ years of education and I could get more if I felt like it. When I was 26, I delivered my first child naturally in a hospital with a nurse midwife present. I don’t feel I’ve ever been discriminated against because of my gender, and I’ve never been abused or beaten in any way.
I am pretty naïve about the state of women in the world.
Reading Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn was eye-opening for me. I had of course heard about sex trafficking in Asia. I had of course heard of maternal deaths in Africa due to improper medical care. I had of course heard about the atrocities against woman that occurred (and are occurring) as a part of national genocide in Africa. I had of course heard about lack of education for girls around the globe and corresponding gender discrimination.
But hearing something is different than meeting the people. The stories Kristof and WuDunn share about woman around the globe made these issues real to me. These Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists capture the issues and it is heart-breaking. But because each section ends with stories of success, I feel that change is possible in the future. There is hope. What will it take to turn the world around? I think being aware is part of the first step, and Half the Sky is a great first step for all to gain a little bit more of that awareness.
I am having an incredibly hard time writing this post. I have started many times. I have pondered which direction to go. I could list all the atrocities that are happening around the world. On the other hand, I could share the success stories because people in better situations decided to start something or decided to donate money or went to Africa to see for themselves what is happening. Good things are happening because people make a difference. But I can’t decide which of the stories to share.
What I really want to tell you is that you must read this book. It taught me that the battle for women’s rights really is just beginning.
While I may be sitting at a personal computer in suburban Chicago, a woman somewhere in the world is being beaten because she burnt dinner, or because she has been sold into sex slavery, or because she asked her father to be able to go to school like her brother, or because her insides rotted after her first pregnancy at age 13 and her husband doesn’t like her smell. This book really helped me to see the place of women in the world as a whole, rather than just my limited experience.
When I checked out this book at the library, the librarian was kidding around and said she knew this wasn’t my son’s book (as the other one, a picture book, was) because it for women.
“It’s not for women!” I said.
“That’s what it says on the cover,” she responded.
I looked down. The subtitle is “Turning oppression into opportunity for women worldwide.”
“No,” I responded, shocked she’d think this book was meant to exclude men because women are the focus. “It’s about women. It’s for everyone.”
I do believe Half the Sky’s message is for everyone. It will not be easy to shift world culture toward respecting women. Even if you and your loved ones respect women, it’s horrible to think what a large percentage of world cultures do to women by using the excuse “they are women.”
That said, I know from experience that not every book works for every person. This is a violent nonfiction book because it describes the life of women around the world: rapes and beatings in particular enter a lot of stories. I am not one to read that type of nonfiction often, but I could get through this book because the ultimate message is one of hope and action. It is very easy to read, and I admit I struggled to put it down because once a story starts, I wanted to know how it ended. Some ended positively. Some did not.
The most important part is awareness. Maybe you don’t feel you need to read it because you are already aware. Regardless, if you don’t think you can or want to read this book, at least check out the official Half the Sky Movement website. It shares inspiring stories from the book and links to dozens of charities that the authors feel help support women around the globe.
I want to do something, and while my charitable contributions budget is stretched right now, I’m still researching options and considering where some of my charitable contributions will go in the future. I’m impressed with all the options before me, and I only wish I had more money to share or the ability to travel where help is needed.
As I was reading this book, I also was reading 1920s Harlem Renaissance poetry (which I talked about the other day). Georgia Douglas Johnson’s “The Heart of a Woman” really broke my heart because it captured the horror of being a woman in a bad relationship. It’s too bad that this still describes so many women in the world today, whether that is in a suburban USA city or in rural Africa or in a brothel in Asia. If you didn’t click over, here it is:
The Heart of a Woman
The heart of a woman goes forth with the dawn,
As a lone bird, soft winging, so restlessly on,
Afar o’er life’s turrets and vales does it roam
In the wake of those echoes the heart calls home.
The heart of a woman falls back with the night,
And enters some alien cage in its plight,
And tries to forget it has dreamed of the stars
While it breaks, breaks, breaks on the sheltering bars.
–by Georgia Douglas Johnson, 1922