Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

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



About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  1. Great post! I follow Nicholas Kristof’s articles in the New York Times and he has done so much to bring awareness to the conditions of women around the world. But what I like about him too is that instead of just being hopeless about it he tells who is helping and/or how to help. I agree with you that he is a must read!

  2. Wonderful post. This sounds like an important book, though sadly I bet a lot of people are like the librarian and think it is only for women. I am very glad that aid agengies over the last several years have begun focusing on women. The statistics are very clear, give women more education and skills to work and contribute to the economy and the living conditions of the whole family and village are improved. I heard on the radio the other day that much of the food aid being handed out in Haiti is given only to women because then the food will actually go to feed families there having been problems with the men taking and hoarding the food or selling it.
    .-= Stefanie´s last post on blog ..What Do Your Bookshelves Say About You Meme =-.

  3. That sounds really powerful. I agree wth Stefanie’s point above about women with access to education being better placed to contribute to society, it just makes sense. There’s also a chain of thought about if women are in control of their own birth control it positively effects the economy (for example if you have one or two kids instead of say nine you’re more able to work and you should have more disposable income to put your kids through school, ensuring they also work and help increase capitalist society).
    .-= Jodie´s last post on blog ..The Mariposa Club – Rigoberto Gonzalez =-.

  4. Great post — I have heard of this book and would like to read it, but in the interim I will check out the website.
    It is books like these that make me feel a bit guilty when I complain about how I dislike my job, or that I can’t afford to go on a vacation. My so-called problems are nothing in comparison.

  5. I’m dying to read this book since I read the interview of the authors on goodreads. I love how it focuses on women and the title is perfect.

  6. Rhapsody, That’s exactly what I loved so much about this: the hope!

    Kathy, it is so important!

    Stefanie, I was so taken aback by the comment that it was for women! They address the give-charity-to-the-women thing in the book: they are much better at using it wisely then the men!

    Jodie, The issues of birth control were also so interesting in this book! Just the concept that women could choose is so revolutionary in some of those communities!

    Suzanne, it does put our life into perspective, doesn’t it!

    Kailana, I had to wait too, but it came much quicker than I anticipated — maybe everyone will be like me and won’t be able to put it down!

    Mee, I’ll have to find that interview. I really like the way they wrote this!

    Marie, yes, you should! The poem broke my heart :/.

  7. I get frustrated with certain aspects of being a woman in today’s society – I hate it, for instance, that I’m scared of walking alone at night and I organize my schedule so I won’t have to do it – but a book like this always reminds me how good I really have it. I’m saddened but not surprised by what your librarian said; it frustrates me how things like this get classified as “women’s issues” when really they are of course everyone’s issues. 🙁
    .-= Jenny´s last post on blog ..Writing swear words in the margins =-.

  8. I agree with your review completely. I read this back in November, and it really struck a chord with me. I think it’s so important for us to realize that there is still so much work to be done in the world to help women worldwide. I did a coreview of this one with Eva, but we haven’t published it yet…. we should get on that. 🙂
    .-= Heather´s last post on blog ..The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien =-.

  9. Jenny, yeah, this book really is for everyone!! Not just women.

    Aarti, yes, I linked to the website above and I spent a long time browsing it!! Loved the book.

    Heather, one that we won’t forget soon, huh! I really needed it.

    Susan, it is great. I hope you can find it!

  10. I think I read part of this in The New York Times Magazine a couple of months ago. It was so interesting but some of it was so sad. . . I’m trying to focus on the inspirational parts though.
    .-= Karenlibrarian´s last post on blog ..Our Mutual Read =-.

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