Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

Image of Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide
Release Date: 
September 7, 2009
Reviewed by: 

 Reading this book will change someone else’s life, because once you’ve become aware of the persistent and pervasive enslavement, rape, abuse, torture, and neglect of women in the world and how to change these realities, you will want to DO something—and it turns out that there is a lot you can do. Even though this book has had heaps of praise and glowing reviews, it can never have too many. The longer it stays in our consciousness, the better.  Half the Sky (taken from a Chinese proverb that says women hold up half the sky) is an intense mixture of sad, horrendous, and heartbreaking stories, with equal amounts of hope, inspiration, and calls for immediate action (politically, organizationally, and personally). It’s not only a story about what is being done to women in the name of “honor, religion, culture, tradition and business,” but also asks readers to take a stand and make a difference. The dedication reads, “And for all those on the front lines around the globe, saving the world, one woman at a time. ” There have been many excellent books about how to get involved and help others on a local, national, regional, and worldwide level (Pick One by Colin Ingram and Robert D. Reed and Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson, come to mind), but few hold the same power as Half the Sky. The reason this book makes such a difference is because we are privileged to join the authors and meet women in countries throughout the world who are the “change we’ve been waiting for.” One of these women is Mukhtar, a poor uneducated Pakistani villager who was kidnapped and raped for days. Instead of killing herself (which she was expected to do), she reported the rape to the police, and then fought the government and thugs for justice for many years. She has since started schools for women (and men) and literally changed the paradigm about rape and male domination in her country. The authors, husband and wife (Kristof and WuDunn) state that there are three things they learned during their many years of travel and visits with women throughout the world. They believe these lessons apply to every situation and are what they try to remember when they are at their wits end with feelings of grief and helplessness. One, helping others is complicated and uncertain, sometimes impossible. Two, never give up. Three, even when problems are vast, it is worth doing what you can to mitigate the situation and lesson the suffering, even when it seems like a drop in the bucket. Another vital observation made by the authors in the chapter titled “Learning to Speak Up,” is that, “One of the reasons that so many women and girls are kidnapped, trafficked, raped and otherwise abused is that they grin and bear it. Stoic docility is drilled into girls in much of the world from the time they are babies. ” Understandably, control, threat, violence, and possible death, feed into practice of silence and the belief that one has no voice, value, or worth. Readers of Half the Sky are urged to not turn away and hide, but take a close look at the filth heaped upon women worldwide and put their hand out to help someone out of the mud.  One of the most effective means to do so is through education. When women have equal access to education, it affects everything in their lives and their community. Add prenatal and maternity care, along with reproductive choice and means, and you create a potent mixture for changing the world. Gabriel Constans' latest books are the novel Buddha’s Wife and the collection of short stories, Saint Catherine’s Baby. He is an advisor to the Rwandan Orphan’s Project and on the board of directors of the Ihangane Project, which works to provide health care, education, and livelihood to women and girls in rural Rwanda.