Book Review – Half the Sky

Today we look back on the acceptance of slavery in the 1800s and before and ask what those people were thinking. How could they accept such a horrific crime to continue in their midst? Or we look to our more recent past and cringe at the crimes done by those in favor of segregation. Again, how could people allow such evil to continue?

Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn believe that future generations will look back to our day and wonder how we could blindly allow worldwide violence against women to continue. Why didn’t they do more to stop it, future generations will ask of us. The goal of their book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide is to educate and motivate people to begin to end oppression against women throughout the world.

There are not many books I will say this about, but here it goes: every person should read this book. Men and women, young and old, people of any faith. This is the definition of a must-read. Put down The Hunger Games and 50 Shades of Grey and read this. Please.

It is not an easy read. By that I do not mean it is intellectually challenging. In that way it is an easy read, filled with stories that bring the issues and statistics to life. But it is not easy in that there were numerous points where I had to stop reading because I could not stomach the stories. The things they write about are simply horrific, words cannot do justice to how vile what happens to women in some parts of the world is. But if any book comes close to having the words do justice, it is this one.

Kristof and WuDunn shed light on sex trafficking and forced prostitution. That is a subject I have read about before so I knew what to expect, though they do bring a slightly different angle in a few points. Then they move on to other subjects. We learn about how rape is used as a weapon of war in the Congo, how it is safer to be a man fighting in the wars there then it is to be a woman on the sidelines. Along with this we learn about honor killings. Then they tell us about the dangers of childbirth for many women throughout the world where things like fistula can make women outcasts in their own communities.

The authors are not afraid to take America to task, and one of the thought-provoking chapters for me as an American pastor was when they discussed the “God-gap.” They spoke of how American politics affects women worldwide. When President Bush ended funding to any foreign aid group that counseled women about abortion options the target may have been an organization in China but this policy had ill-effects on women who were seeking help (not seeking abortions) from the same organization operating in Africa. But the authors do not blame just one side of American politics, as they recognize it is Christian groups who are often the only ones bringing the needed help to rural areas in Africa. The challenge is for those on both sides of the American political spectrum to find a way to lay aside their differences and work together for the good of women throughout the world.

Kristof and WuDunn do not just seek to educate, they also propose a way forward. Some keys in this way forward are things like education and microfinance, as well as seemingly mundane things like ensuring that pregnant women get iodized salt which has proven to increase IQ in the babies. They also propose funding towards medical facilities to heal women with fistula. Finally, they give the reader a few things that can be done in the ten minutes after finishing the book.

After I finished this book I sat around the dinner table with the two women I love the most: my wife and my daughter.  I could not help but think how different their lives would be had they been born elsewhere.  So many women in the world are suffering in so many ways.  The love I have for these two lovely ladies moves me to want to help other women throughout the world.

To start, I went here  and here.

This is a book that will not leave you unchanged.

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