Half The Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

This is one of those books that should be made compulsory reading.

Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn are the first couple to win a Pulitzer Prize in journalism. In this book they tell stories of women around the world, sometimes heart wrenching, sometimes uplifting. It shows how a helping hand can lift a woman out of poverty and misery: a woman in Burundi is transformed from abused-wife to husband-tamer (who decides how much allowance her husband can have!) with the money she earned through the CARE program. Stories like Usha Narayane standing up to the village bully make me yelp with joy. Sadly there are also incidents when the problem is deeper than what a gentle lift can help, or how foreign aid can have unexpected results: like the Cambodian girl who returns to prostitution, after the authors “bought” her freedom, because she cannot break free of the drug addiction the brothel introduced her to; or the Cameroonian woman who was refused treatment despite the authors’ offer of payment and blood transfusion.

The book also cited many studies which are quite eye openers. One shows that, interestingly, in rural India, soap operas on TV actually is a good thing! When villagers see how in modern cities women have jobs and freedom, it changes the culture and reduces family abuse! Or that American is relatively more violent than Europe because of its legacy of male surplus (think wild wild west!)

As great journalists, more than just stirring the readers’ emotions, the authors outline simple steps that readers can take to address the issues. They also talk of how well-meaning aids can back fire, and what are the most effective ways to help. Throughout the book they mention many heroes who work hard to advocate the causes, many ordinary people who do the extraordinary, and women who, after given a hand up, in turn offer her help to others.

I have been sponsoring many loans on Kiva for a long time, and it’s great to read in this book how the loans can actually help a woman. In the past I had wondered why people keep returning for more loans, and wondered if it means we are keep giving money to a losing business. After reading this I get a better idea how it operates. I am also glad to find an appendix with list of organizations supporting women in developing countries, such as Apne Aap, Women For Women, Fistula Foundation, Somaly Mam Foundation and more.

Published in: on January 31, 2013 at 11:27 pm  Leave a Comment