Srey Rath, Meena, Momm, Usha, Woinshet, Mukhtar, Mahbouba and Prudence—these are the names of the women and girls whose stories are told in Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Pulitzer-prize winning journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Spanning sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and the Middle East, Kristof and WuDunn encapsulate the struggles of these few individuals to represent all of the nameless women in the world who endure oppression through means of rape, violence, abduction, sex trafficking, and social ostracism from obscene medical conditions.
While the first half of the book includes vignettes that account the hardships each of the women faced, the last half encompasses a variety of issues like the role of U.S. politics in global women affairs, the role of Islam and misogynistic cultures, possible solutions to gender inequity such as microfinance and education, then concludes with a chapter on how the reader can help.
Kristof and WuDunn parallel the oppression of these women to slavery, citing the cause of oppression as a “curse” of being poor, being a woman, and being rural. Among the highlights of the book are the stories of Meena, the sex-trafficked girl; Usha, the educated untouchable; Woinshet, the abducted bride-to-be; Mukhtar, the internationally recognized Pakistani rape victim; Mahbouba, the abandoned daughter; and Prudence, the weakening mother-to-be.
Each of the vignettes features a more brutal, jaw-dropping awakening than the last and it becomes nearly impossible to begin reading a chapter without resolving to read the end to find out whether the woman survives.
(Spoiler alert!) Since most of the women do, indeed, succeed in disarming the oppressive capabilities of their captors—their sex traffickers, rapists, or communities—by either fighting back or escaping and making a life for themselves, they ultimately defeat oppression.
None of their lives can be justified in the ten-or-so pages that account their most unwanted memories; however, seeing their faces and learning about their struggles gives a new perspective to what constitutes “oppression.” Kristof and WuDunn complement each woman’s story by integrating facts and statistics of the innumerable women across the world whose stories are faceless, nameless, and unknown, creating a deep sense of empathy toward women in the developing world.
If you begin reading Half the Sky, I want you to know that this book will stick with you. It will make you reevaluate the typical struggles you go through any given day and it will put them into perspective. Half the Sky will force you into learning uncomfortable, imposing details about these women that will resonate within you for a long time—but do not be mislead; the women are so valiant that their stories will empower you, too.
This is a book for those interested in gaining knowledge of the ubiquitous female plight as well as those looking to understand some of the anthropological factors hindering the end to oppression. Although not meant to be a panacea for all female humanitarian causes, Half the Sky still edifies its readership with accurate journalism and enigmatic story telling. It is the quintessential read for the modern feminist and global citizen.
This article was also published in the MCA Youth magazine.