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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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I would recommend Half the Sky to any
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.