By Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn
Filled with personal stories and facts, this book makes the world situation of women very clear. My mother always wanted me to be a doctor or lawyer when I was little. I think if I had read this book then, I would have become a woman’s doctor in Niger: “Niger has only ten ob-gyns in the entire country, and rural areas are lucky to have a physician of any kind in the vicinity.”
“Let us be clear (the book states in the introduction,) about this upfront: we hope to recruit you to join an incipient movement to emancipate woman and fight global poverty by unlocking women’s power as economic catalysts.” After wondering exactly what “incipient” means, I get excited. Makes me want to write a book that says this:
“Let me be clear about this upfront: I hope to recruit you to join in an incipient (which means to first get angry/emotionally involved and then develop a role in it) movement to effectively reach out and share God’s love, education, nutrition, and direction to impoverished children by unlocking the power of community and lasting change through the local church.”
This is a dangerous book that everyone should read. Because you are responsible for the knowledge you know. And I want to make everyone as responsible as possible for making a difference in the world, instead of just living a nominal life. It shocks me to read that some countries still had slavery until a year before I was born. What does it take for us to open our eyes to the world around us? To realize that what we live isn’t “normal”?
The book focused on prostitution/human trafficking, sexual violence, maternal mortality, and daily discrimination of the female gender. I was struck by the thought that if we spent more time and money helping save women’s lives in childbirth, women around the world would be much more open to hearing about the benefits of being pro-life. Maternal mortality claims the life of a woman every minute.
It opened my eyes to historical documentation like that of Sweden and the Netherlands, who, when faced with legalizing prostitution, one cracked down on it, but didn’t punish the female and the other legalized it. Years later, it is clear Sweden’s take is more beneficial for the women and the country. In third world countries, where government laws often make no difference, putting international pressure often does: “Simply asking questions put the issue on the agenda. Countries began passing laws, staging crackdowns, and compiling fact sheets. Pimps found that the cost of bribing police went up, eroding their profit margins.” And making the sex-trade non-profitable is the most effective way to stop forced prostitution.
“One third of all women worldwide face beatings in the home. Women aged 15-34 are more likely to be maimed or die from male violence than from cancer, malaria, traffic accidents, and war combined.”
They shared stories that I wish I could forget, and facts about how in some war-torn areas of Africa, 90 of the women have been raped. “In short, rape becomes a tool of war in conservative societies precisely because female sexuality is so sacred.” Rebels will rape the women and the men are shamed—the tribe conquered in ways that if they had killed someone, the government would have gotten involved. “It has probably become more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in an armed conflict.”
In these cultures, most raped women commit suicide because they have no more value or worth. It is what the culture says she is to do. They told another story from rural India, where when a boy wants to marry a girl but can’t pay the bride-price, he kidnaps her, rapes her, and returns her. The parents then let him have her since she is worth nothing. What kind of world is this? In the story they shared, the girl escaped, but the town returned her to the rapist, saying, “Are you crazy? He just wants to marry you.” If these girls go to the police, they often just rape her again in response.
“When anesthesia was developed, it was for many decades withheld from women giving birth, since women were “supposed” to suffer. One of the few societies to take a contrary view was the Huichoi tribe in Mexico. The Huichoi believed that the pain of childbirth should be shared, so the mother would hold on to a string tied to her husband’s testicles. With each painful contraction, she would give the string a yank so that the man could share the burden.”
A friend of theirs in a Muslim country: “You think we’re victims, because we cover our hair and wear modest clothing. But we think that it’s Western women who are repressed, because they have to show their bodies—even go through surgery to change their bodies—to please men.”
All through the book they highlighted successful grassroots organizations and people who are making a difference, focusing on girl’s education, family planning, micro-finance, and empowerment in general. “You educate a boy, and you’re educating an individual. You educate a girl, and you’re educating an entire village” –Greg Mortenson
They pointed out that while American’s see Chinese sweatshops as horrible, it was the ticket to freedom for many women, being allowed to have a job and thus provide for themselves/their families. On a very practical note, most third world countries need to invest in women because they need the brain power, the peacefulness, and the “man” power they provide: “One way to soothe some conflict-ridden societies is to bring women and girls into schools, the workplace, government, and business, partly to boost the economy and partly to ease the testosterone-laden (violent) values of these countries.”
“We must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent.” –Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Because men not typically control the purse strings, it appears that the poorest families in the world typically spend approximately ten times as much (20% of their income on average) on a combination of alcohol, prostitutes, candy, sugary drinks, and lavish feasts as they do on educating their children…perhaps it seems culturally insensitive to scold the poor for indulging in festivals, alcohol, or sweets that make life more fun. Yet when resources are scares, priorities are essential…and the simplest solution is to reallocate spending.” Which is why most social and government services are now going through the women, because the money is more likely to get to the children.
We can’t blame the men for everything though, if the women would band together to protect and speak out, differences could be made. It is often the mother-in-law who enforces the beating of her son’s wife. It is often the mother who has her daughter’s genitals removed. It is the general culture and passivity of other women who perpetuate the inequality.
They told stories of women who had gotten microfinance loans and started gaining income: their husbands not only stopped beating them, but they began to have a good relationship for the first time as he gained respect for her and saw she could be so much more than a slave. Television is also a tool: as rural areas receive the outside influences, and watch shows that show “popular culture” where the women are respected, they are beginning to change.
At the end of “Half the Sky,” they call for three pragmatic steps: $10 billion for educating girls, $19 million to give iodized salt to pregnant women (which would raise IQ at least ten points in impoverished children born), and a $1.6 billion plan to eradicate obstetric fistula (which normally happens from harsh rape or when a baby gets stuck during birth and permanently cripples if not treated—but is treatable).
“If you care about poverty you must understand it, not just oppose it. And understanding poverty comes from spending time observing it directly.” They shared about how England was the forerunner in ending slavery, and how it cost them dearly to do it. But the workers (William Wilberforce and many others) gathered correct/documented information, and were able to clearly present to the general public what it was LIKE to be a slave/on a slave boat. That is what we need to do: figure out a way to present to the general public what it is like to be impoverished, and all that goes along with that. Like have a day of not wearing shoes. A week of eating only rice and beans. A month of only using public transportation…