Sunday, March 14, 2010

Half the Sky ~ by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, 2009

The full title of this book is Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.  WuDunn and Kristof were the first married couple ever to receive a Pulitzer for journalism, for their reporting about the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 (she mentions that time in the video below).  I have thirteen pages of quotes from this book, so you know right away how important I think it is.  Let me start with a perfect, but terrible, word:  gendercide (page xvii).
"It appears that more girls have been killed in the last fifty years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the battles of the twentieth century.  More girls are killed in this routine "gendercide" in any one decade than people were slaughtered in all the genocides of the twentieth century."
Wow!  In case you aren't into numbers, however, Kristof and WuDunn give plenty of examples of what's happening to women all over the world.

About a woman in Pakistan:
"In Pakistan, we met a young woman from the Christian minority who insisted on choosing her own husband; infuriated at this breach of family honor, her brothers bickered over whether they should kill her or just sell her to a brothel.  While they argued, she escaped" (p. 150).
About a thug in India:
"One of his specialties was the threat of rape to terrorize anyone who might stand up to him.  Murder left inconvenient piles of bodies, requiring bribes to keep the police at bay, while rape is so stigmatizing that the victims could usually be counted on to stay silent.  Sexual humiliation was thus an effective and low-cost strategy to intimidate challengers and to control the community. ... The more barbaric the behavior, the more the population was cowed into acquiescence" (p. 49).
About women in America:
"During World War I, more American women died in childbirth than American men died in war. ... When women could vote, suddenly their lives became more important, and enfranchising women ended up providing a huge and unanticipated boost to women's health" (p. 116).
About women in Afghanistan:
"After the Taliban was ousted in Afghanistan, banditry spread and Amnesty International quoted an aid worker as saying:  'During the Taliban era, if a woman went to market and showed an inch of flesh, she would have been flogged; now, she's raped" (p. 150).
About deaths in childbirth:
"In most societies, mythological or theological explanations were devised to explain why women should suffer in childbirth, and they forestalled efforts to make the process safer.  When anesthesia was developed, it was for many decades routinely withheld from women giving birth, since women were 'supposed' to suffer.  One of the few societies to take a contrary view was the Huichol tribe in Mexico.  The Huichol 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.  Surely if such a machanism were more widespread, injuries in childbirth would garner more attention" (pp. 116-117).
Below is a video of Sheryl WuDunn speaking about the issues and what made them decide to write this book.  It's entitled "Fighting for Women's Rights in China."

If the video quits working, click this link to view the video on YouTube.

Now, what are some things that will help?  Education and microfinance, for a start.
"Education and empowerment training can show girls that feminity does not entail docility, and can nurture assertiveness so that girls and women stand up for themselves" (p. 47). "... the single most important way to encourage women and girls to stand up for their rights is education" (p. 66) ... "Empowering women begins with education," she said (p. 66) [quoting Mahdere Paulos, the dynamic woman who runs the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association].
 "Microfinance has done more to bolster the status of women, and to protect them from abuse, than any laws could accomplish.  Capitalism, it turns out, can achieve what charity and good intentions sometimes cannot" (p. 187).
Kristof and WuDunn suggested a surprising way to improve education and keep children in school.
"One of the most cost effective ways to increase school attendance is to deworm students.  Intestinal worms affect children's physical and intellectual growth.  Indeed, ordinary worms kill 130,000 people a year, typically through anemia or intestinal obstruction, and the anemia particularly affects menstruating girls.  When deworming was introduced in the American South in the early twentieth century, school teachers were stunned at the impact:  The children were suddenly far more alert and studious.  Likewise, a landmark study in Kenya found that deworming could decrease school absenteeism by a quarter" (p. 171).
Lest you worry about the cost:
"The average American spends fifty dollars a year to deworm a dog; in Africa, you can deworm a child for fifty cents," says Peter Hotez of the Global Network for neglected Tropical Disease Control, a leader in the battle against worms. (p. 171)
I shared some information (and a video) from Nicholas Kristof about women in the Congo.  He went there with Lisa Shannon, whose book about women in the Congo will be published in April.  I rate Half the Sky at 8 out of 10, very good.


Helen's Book Blog said...

I REALLY want to read this book. And, I own it (I got it for Christmas). Maybe I'll have to move it up in the queue and get to it sooner than I planned. Thanks for the great review!

alisonwonderland said...

Thanks for sharing the great quotes. I'm looking forward to reading this!

The Insouciant Sophisticate said...

Thanks for sharing these quotes! I just finished reading this and I'm glad to see other bloggers highlighting this interesting and important book.