Tuesday, April 20, 2010

"Half the Sky"-- A Review and A Movement

by Rev. Laura Barclay

Half the Sky:Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, is a powerful portrait of women in the developing world and a great beginner’s guide on how Westerners can help to empower them. Kristof and WuDunn, a husband and wife team, are Pulitzer Prize winning journalists who have a passion for elevating the importance of women’s rights in the Global South.

The book starts with a staggering statistic, noting the substandard care of girls and women by their parents:

“More girls have been killed in the last fifty years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the wars 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 (xvii).”

Kristof and WuDunn take us around the world, telling us personal stories of women who have survived sex trafficking and genital mutilation, rape and molestation, fistulas and near-death pregnancies. Yet, instead of identifying these women as victims, they follow the story of their empowerment and survival. Many of the women they highlight take advantage of beneficial aid programs, becoming community organizers and educators for the cause of human rights. Along the way, Kristof and WuDunn give the reader examples of non-profits who are doing excellent work, as well as those who are failing those they are meant to serve. In most cases, successful models involve Western aid that finances the education of women, provides microloans for women-run small businesses, and funds native community organizers rather than Western workers to lead operations. Local empowerment allows for a less colonial approach, fosters local leadership development and assures a greater respect for culture and ethnicity.

Kristof and WuDunn show the importance of Western politicians working together. They criticize both liberals and conservatives for not funding hospitals that would allow women to deliver their babies safety, to fix painful fistulas that can form and inhibit the passing of urine and fecal matter, and to drastically reduce the level of maternal and infant mortality rates (by the way, more women die during childbirth in a couple of days than terrorism kills people in an entire year, 146). While the ideological poles in the U.S. wage war over abortion issues, women and infants are dying over something both sides could agree to fund. Conservatives and liberals could also agree to crack down on violence against women and sex trafficking, a horrifying plague that has spread due to increasing globalization and capitalism.

Kristof and WuDunn close their book by saying that if we look at emancipating women as a “women’s issue,” then we’ve already lost (234). Instead, there is powerful data that suggests the education of women, half any given nation’s population, will raise a nation’s GDP, increase stability, and reduce poverty (237). Empowering and emancipating women from sexual slavery (27 million and counting), poverty, and substandard health care are issues of national security, international relations, and economic security.

When women obtained the right to vote in America, the child mortality rate dropped 8-15%, and spending on public health increased by 35% (198). Politicians realized women had power, and they altered the budget to meet the concerns of women they feared would vote them out if they did not address certain issues of grave importance. I encourage you to get this book and join up with one of the profiled organizations to help empower women and improve our world!

Check out the "Half the Sky Movement"to find out how to get involved now!


  1. Thanks for the post Laura. I can't echo enough your encouragement that we all read Half the Sky. It's a great suggestion for mission groups for both the knowledge and practical suggestions offered. We don't have a church library but I'm getting another copy to circulate locally. Also, several colleges and universities around the nation, including NC State, have already selected it as the Freshman summer read. I'd love to hear of it being discussed on our Baptist campuses as well.

  2. Kenneth,

    Thanks for your comment! This is great to hear! Wanda Kidd, CBF of North Carolina's College Ministry Consultant, actually recommended this book to me and I know that it was the basis for at least one of the discussions at the last CBFNC College Ministry Retreat, where the topic was "Imago Dei".