Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

by Nicholas D. Kristof

Paperback, 2010




Vintage (2010), Edition: Reprint, 320 pages


Two Pulitzer Prize winners issue a call to arms against our era's most pervasive human rights violation: the oppression of women in the developing world. They show that a little help can transform the lives of women and girls abroad and that the key to economic progress lies in unleashing women's potential.

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(434 ratings; 4.3)

Media reviews

It is a testament to their skills as writers and reporters that they've managed to write this call to action without having to raise their voices. The facts, as they learned long ago in China, speak loudly enough.
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Half the Sky manages to be inspiring and engrossing rather than numbing.
An ancient Chinese proverb goes that women hold up half the sky. Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn want that to be appreciated — on the ground. In the opening pages of this gripping call to conscience, the husband-and-wife team come out swinging: “Gendercide,” the daily slaughter of girls
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in the developing world, steals more lives in any given decade “than all the genocides of the 20th century.” No wonder Kristof and WuDunn, whose coverage of China for The New York Times won them a Pulitzer Prize, declare the global struggle for women’s equality “the paramount moral challenge” of our era.
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Even with [its] stains, Half the Sky remains a thrilling manifesto for advancing freedom for hundreds of millions of human beings.

User reviews

LibraryThing member BillPilgrim
This very readable book is a call to arms. The authors want people living in the United States and the rest of the Western world to take positive steps to improve the circumstances of women throughout the world. They focus on several of the terrible problems faced by women in the developing world
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– sexual slavery, forced prostitution, honor killings, rape as an instrument of war and intimidation, death and trauma due to pregnancy and childbirth, genital cutting, etc.

The format of the book is primarily to tell the stories of individual women whom the authors have met and interviewed. Although there also are statistics about the breadth of the problems, individual stories are used to better raise the empathy of the readers. This technique is used because studies have found that “statistics have a dulling effect, while it is individual stories that move people to act.”

Each chapter tells one or a few individual stories of women who suffered the same indignities, and then is followed by another story of someone who is working to address that particular problem. At the end of the book there is a long listing of aid organizations and their web sites, which can be contacted to offer monetary contributions and other support. People are urged to not just give money and raise awareness at home, but to also visit the areas where these problems exist, because “to tackle an issue effectively, you need to understand it – and it's impossible to understand an issue by simply reading about it.”

While large international aid organizations are recognized as being important, they have flaws and the authors primarily highlight and promote the efforts of small social entrepreneurs. These are people who “create their own context by starting a new organization, company or movement to address a social problem in a creative way.” They can establish small organizations that have significant impacts in the areas where they operate.

In the chapter where the authors argue that China's economic improvement (and that in some other nations) was brought about because of the advancement of women in the society, it is briefly mentioned that “Sweatshops have given a women a boost.” the authors recognize that this will be “shocking to many Americans.” I would have thought that this issue should deserve more discussion. It is noted that women in East Asian countries are moving from farms to factories, and that family farms are less productive. Is the end result going to be factory faming? There is also no discussion at all about fair trade. I am interested in what the authors have to say about the impact that Western consumers can have on the Asian economies if they seek to buy only products that are produced using fair trade guidelines.

A point made at the end of the book supports the thesis put forward in another book that I read recently, “A Paradise Made in Hell”, by Rebecca Solnit. Research findings show that a person's level of happiness is not effected that much by either good or bad fortune. Any effect on an individual's level of happiness cause by winning the lottery or suffering a debilitating injury is only temporary. But, a real change in the level of happiness that people feel comes from “a connection to something larger – a greater cause or a humanitarian purpose. *** We are neurologically constructed so that we gain huge personal dividends from altruism.” So, getting involved in trying to improve the lives of others will automatically improve the enjoyment that you get out of life. The book presents ways for people to get easily and quickly involved. Do it today.
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LibraryThing member JGoto
This text is a well written account of some of the issues which plague women in third world countries today. Kristof uses personal accounts to highlight topics such as human trafficking, maternal mortality, fistula, honor killings, and other problems women face. He gives a very convincing argument
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for making these issues a priority for all of us. It is not a shocker that the most important way to solve gender inequality problems is to provide education. What did surprise me were the ways that have been proven effective to do this. In the back of the book is an appendix with contact information for agencies involved in grass roots movements to improve the conditions of half the world's population. Recommended.
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LibraryThing member bogreader
I was pleasantly surprised by this book in that it provided more critical analysis than I anticipated. Not only does the book have personal anecdotes that illustrate the issues affecting women around the word, it includes both successes and failures and a healthy amount of skepticism about outsider
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"assistance." Recommendations include the need to include men in solutions, which is vital to long term human success.
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LibraryThing member simchaboston
Probably the most important book I will read this year. This is a call to action couched in a series of narratives that are passionate, disturbing, engrossing, and ultimately inspiring. It is difficult to read at times, though the gruesome details about rape, honor killings, prostitution, maternal
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morbidity and other violence done to women do serve the higher purpose of explaining the importance of these issues.

Sometimes the authors seem to have simplified things in order to present clear cases for one solution or another, and I do take issue with their promotion of industrialization as a solution to women's poverty, which needs some rethinking in the wake of Bangladesh's deadly sweatshop fire in 2012. They also -- for perfectly valid reasons --concentrate on the developing world, to the extent of minimizing any similar problems in the U.S. and Europe (which admittedly are not of the same scale, and are generally not condoned by an entire nation's culture or government). Their overall argument, however, is so compelling that I'm going to go set up an account on Kiva so I can channel my new knowledge into loans to people who need them.
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LibraryThing member framberg
This is an important book. I'm fairly well educated about gender based discrimination and violence, but reading this book made the reality of the global situation hit home. At times I found it depressing, despite the positive stories, simply because of the magnitude of the problem and the
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intractability of gender bias, even here in the US. It was my book group's discussion of the book that actually made me feel more hopeful and gave me some faith that a critical mass of people might prioritize lifting women, and through them their communities, out of poverty and deprivation. I appreciate Kristof and WuDunn's constant effort to not only show that change is possible, but also to give concrete example of and ideas for being that change.
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LibraryThing member frisbeesage
Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide is an astounding piece of journalism covering a wide range of the issues women in third world countries must face on a daily basis. Genital mutilation, sex slavery, lack of even the most basic health care, and no resources to
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care for themselves or their children. Kristoff and WuDunn shine a spotlight at the horrific conditions in which many women live today. Sound depressing? It would be, but they also give an in depth analysis on how things can be changed and what you, as an individual, can do to help. While all the stories start out heartbreaking many have uplifting and hopeful endings. Women everywhere are fighting back and all they need is a helping hand.

The book is well written and laid out nicely including hard statistics and numbers mixed in with very personal stories that bring the tragedies to a very personal level. I could have done with less of the numbers and more personal stories. The authors carefully explain that too many numbers make people feel disconnected with a problem and then go on to make the blunder anyway. Still, their message comes across loud and clear. I loved the last section on how to make a difference. I especially liked discovering websites like kiva where with $25 and a click of the mouse you can make a very personal impact on someone's life.

The audio version is beautifully read by Cassandra Campbell. She has the sensitivity to narrate through the harsh, brutal parts and the ability to let you celebrate the triumphant ones.
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LibraryThing member The_Hibernator
In Half the Sky Pulitzer Prize winning journalists Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn share a heartbreaking study of oppression of women around the world. It begins with a long section on the sex trafficking of women, sharing personal stories of many victims. Girls may be told that they are
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about to go to earn money selling fruit in a city, and then they are kidnapped, beaten and raped until they submit to prostitution. Some are born into brothels. Many who escape or are rescued from their situation return "willingly" because they know no other way to make a living and they are stigmatized in their community for their past occupation. And many return because they crave the drugs that their pimps have forced upon them to keep them complacent and needy. The book also explores lack of freedom to get educated, honor killings, genital mutilation, and maternal mortality.

Half the Sky was a difficult read because it's hard not to be dragged down by the pain these women have experienced - and that millions worldwide are still experiencing. This is a powerful and important book, and I believe that everyone even remotely interested in the topic should either read this book or watch the documentary that is based on it.
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LibraryThing member Moniica
Synopsis: Reporter for The New York Times Nicholas D. Kristof takes into a world where women are raped for just leaving the house without their husband, their genitals are mutilated to prevent them from promiscuity, where they're not allowed to stand for government, be educated and are left to be
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eaten by animals on the edge of their villages when they suffer a fistula from an unaccompanied childbirth. However, despite the amount of hardship life puts them through, we are shown that it is the empowerment of these women which can lift their whole nation out of poverty. By educating and empowering women in developing nations, men are encouraged to think away from traditional values and think practically and morally instead, and nations are encouraged to realise that until women are given education, health care and human rights, they will only ever be able to perform half as good as a developed nation.
My Opinion: The battle to end the slave trade was in the 19th Century, the fight against totalitarianism was in the 20th Century, and now, in the 21st Century, we can see the single thing taking more lives than all the World Wars put together is gender inequality among women. An amazing and insightful book which helps us learn what it takes to end this century's battle.
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LibraryThing member blazeitblue2012
Half the Sky was really an amazing book. It opened my eyes to the terrible hardships that women in other countries face. It made me appreciative of what a good life I have here in America, but it also shocked me into near-tears and made me want to take action.
I would recommend Half the Sky to any
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woman at all and any man who is interested in women's rights.
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LibraryThing member GaylDasherSmith
This book sheds light on world wide tremendously horrific situations. By focusing on particular individuals and positive solutions, the book is uplifting while raising awareness of issues getting much too little airtime.
LibraryThing member saramllr
An eye-opening book about the struggles of women worldwide. I am looking forward to hearing the authors speak at the Public Library Assoc. conference in a few weeks.
LibraryThing member kreierso
Pulitzer Prize winning authors Kristof and WuDunn take readers through Africa and Asia to meet the extraordinary women struggling there, including a Cambodian teenager sold into sex slavery and an Ethiopian woman who suffered devastating injuries during childbirth. Although the stories are
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heartbreaking they are full of hope as the authors show readers what a little help can do to transform the lives of these women and children. This book is meant for mature readers because the content is graphic but readers will feel inspired at its conclusion. This is a great book to show the power globalization and economic support can have on the oppressed in societies.
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LibraryThing member sweetiegherkin
I absolutely love this book for tackling head-on issues that have long concerned me but are largely ignored by the mass media and, therefore, the general public knows little about them. These issues are considered “women’s issues” because they deal with inequalities faced by women worldwide
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– from sex slavery to female genital mutilation – but, as the authors argue, these are really humanitarian issues that should concern us all. These aren’t pretty subjects to talk about, making this book rather uncomfortable to read at times, but they are important topics that need to be discussed more often in the public arena, and this book is one step in that direction. The authors, Pulitzer prize-winning journalists, use a combination of statistics and the personal stories of women worldwide to provide a complete picture of the full impact of these issues. This is an excellent way to present this kind of information. My only complaint with the book is that the authors say they also want to help the reader “turn oppression into opportunity” but most of their recommendations are relevant to policymakers and/or heads of charitable organizations. For the average individual, the two recommendations they suggest most often are 1) donating money to a charity (Well, duh. That seems rather obvious, although they do suggest specific charities throughout that they’ve found to be particularly effective.) and 2) visiting developing countries to view problems firsthand (An okay suggestion, but it assumes that all people “have to see it to believe it.” And, really, do the authors believe that the 1 in 4 women in the United States who have been raped can’t possibly comprehend what a rape victim in Darfur suffers unless they actually step foot on Sudanese soil? Obviously, the American rape victims have some advantage in that they have access to better health care and justice systems but, even so, I think they can empathize with their African sisters on that point.). At the end of the book, the authors do give more recommendations, such as writing your representatives, so that’s a helpful conclusion. And even without any authorial suggestions for ways to alleviate these problems, I’d still highly recommend this book just for bringing light to these tough issues.
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LibraryThing member dele2451
Inspiring and informative book. Contains a wealth of information about the practices of sex traffiking, child prostitution, honor killings, genital mutilation, gang rape and other horrific abuses routinely heaped on women living in Third World nations. While the subject matter is horrifically grim,
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the material is not because the authors give specific examples and advice regarding many initiatives which have proven successful in reducing and/or virtually eliminating these actions. I especially appreciated the frank discussion of what has worked and what hasn't and the reasons why coupled with specific examples of ways individuals can help RIGHT NOW. The only potential improvement I can see to this book is to reduce the authors obvious political biases--after all they are imploring readers to encourage bipartisanship when tackling these problems, yet they seem to somewhat lack that spirit themselves so it smacks a little of hypocrisy in places. Other than that minor flaw, it is a wonderful piece of journalism about a very important topic and I highly recommend it.
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LibraryThing member BLBera
In the introduction, Nicholas Kristof states that the "paramount moral challenge" of the 21st Century will be the fight for equal rights for women. The book is organized around some of the biggest problems women face: sexual slavery, maternal mortality and economic inequality. Kristof and WuDunn
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tell stories about women that illustrate the various problems. What sets the book apart is the discussion of possible solutions. Among the case studies are stories of what people have done to solve the problems -- things that have worked and things that haven't.

I plan to use this in my college composition class; it is an engaging text that demonstrates ways to get involved in the biggest problems confronting half the world's population.
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LibraryThing member bookalover89
A beautifully written manifesto for the world in helping women and girls reach for better future.
LibraryThing member patrish11
A hard read. Another eye opener to the evils of our culture especially in regards to females. Large emphasis on education being the key to change. Kristof and WuDunn suggest that "if you can capture the youth and change the way they think (education) then you can change the future. (p. 2944).
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Authors offer hope after each personal tragic story. I loved the authors hands on approach to the solution and hearing their own stories about making a difference.
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LibraryThing member creynolds
Well-written, well researched and extremely important book about the need to work towards ending oppression of women worldwide. Although it is horrible to hear how women are treated in other parts of the world, it is also a hopeful book because it highlights many people and organizations that are
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on the right track and it explains why what they are doing is working. A must read.
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LibraryThing member Dottiehaase
non-fiction written by husband/wife team who have won the Pulitizer Prize in journalism. Divided into 3 parts--1--stories about rape, gang rape as part of war, prostitution, sex slavery, in Africa and other countries including USA, 2--Maternal Mortality, family planning, 3--education for girls,
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micofinance. lots of stories and statistics tell the stories of cultures and countries along with individual stories of women who have changed their lives and others, as well as the stories of women who have led campaigns to raise money for the causes of these women
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LibraryThing member jreeder
A must read for anyone who cares about justice for all!
LibraryThing member lisaflip
Several times this book made me scream out in shock when reading so many disturbing stories about women around the world. It helped me appreciate my place in the world and made me realize how much work there is to be done to help sisters worldwide.
LibraryThing member CarolynSchroeder
Simply one of the best books I've ever read. Others have summarized its content well, so I probably could not do justice to women's stories and how incredibly inspiring they were. There is brutality, cruelty and sadness to be sure, but there is no way to show the heroics of the women (and the
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situation as it exists) without it. I was educated, brought to a new level of understanding about the lack of gender equality across the globe and felt a bit of hope that change is possible. I was equally frustrated at how horribly wrong policy makers tend to get things. I applaud the authors for how incredibly well written this book is, but also how they stayed out of traditional political rhetoric to try to get both sides to see reason. There are parts of the Blue and the Red that each work, but the "this is the way we've always done it" blinders on issues keep problems stagnant. For example, she shows how the Catholic Church's policies simply ignore the realites of what is going on in the countries they often serve. However, the Catholic Charity workers actually stationed in various countries are doing enormous good and often dance around the doctrines to help many, many needy women. This is a fresh approach to healing and helping the world's women from the ground up. I'm not sure what I'm going to do (I'm a lawyer, so perhaps get into asylum law or volunteer for one of the many resources listed in the end), but I'm going to do something. It's a powerful book to spark movement. Read it, you will forever be changed. You will want to be the change you wish to see in the world. And your problems will seem very, very small.
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LibraryThing member visuallibrarian
A must read not just for woman but all of those interested in changing our world for the better.
LibraryThing member B.Mayaluna
Powerful, inspiring and global! It is definitely one of the most important books I've ever read. The dynamic Pulitzer prize-winning couple, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, have tackled the many issues of gender inequality head-on, providing statistics and personal stories through exquisitely
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readable investigative journalism. Each chapter is personal success story and testament to how much can be done with so little. It was a real pager turner that I gobbled up in a few sittings. The reference section at the end of the book makes it very easy for you to do something powerful in your own small way for one of the initiatives that you will have undoubtedly been moved to support.
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LibraryThing member buchowl
Brilliant and inspirational. While the book speaks to the oppression of women it also reminds us that this is not strictly a gender issue but a humanitarian one. Very impressive how the authors were able to be respectful of a culture and it's beliefs without necessarily condoning it's practices.
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This is a highly recommended read if you are interested in making the world a better place.
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Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

320 p.; 5.14 inches


0307387097 / 9780307387097
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