"They uncovered her nakedness,
Took away her sons and daughters,
And slew her with the sword;
She became a byword among women,
For they had executed judgment on her."
-- Ezekiel 23:10
Don't miss this book!
In recent years, I've gained much important information from reading books about the common forms of oppression that poor women experience around the world. These books taught me about kidnapped and sold sex and household slaves, mutilation of female genitalia according to custom, lack of educational opportunities, spread of sexual diseases to wives by unchaste men, and uneducated women succeeding as entrepreneurs after receiving training and loans. When someone asked me what they should read, I would tick off a long list of books.
Now, instead, I can refer people who want to know how to help oppressed women and poor people in general by suggesting they read Half the Sky. Every book that I've read that's of value on this subject is generously referenced in Half the Sky.
Authors Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn do a superb job of raising the big issues and explaining why it's often not so easy to resolve those issues:
1. Female slavery
2. Forced female prostitution
3. Cultural docility of many females and genital mutilation
4. Rape and acid scarring as ways to control women and their families
5. Honor killings
6. Lack of maternal healthcare
7. Complications from difficult pregnancies
8. Effects of ignorance about family planning
9. Religious prescriptions about women's roles
10. Poor educations available to women
11. Financing and preparing women entrepreneurs
12. Shifting gender relations so that family resources are better applied
13. Providing more opportunities for girls
The book combines the big picture (global numbers) with specific examples (often involving the authors trying to save one or two people through their own efforts). The consequence is to give you a sense of how bad things are (there's more slave traffic now than in the worst days of shipping Africans to other parts of the world across the Atlantic in the early 19th century). At the same time, you find out that solutions aren't what you imagine what they might be. The importance of local leaders building solutions from the ground up is made clear.
Helping women is a great way to help children, women, and men. Those who are helped immediately seek to give back to others. As a result, there's immense potential presented here.
The book ends with suggestions of specific things each of us can do to make a difference.
In my case, I've already been helping with donations to free slaves, support poor women, and provide access to more educational and small business opportunities for women. I also encourage my university students in lesser developed countries to find ways to open doors of opportunity where they are. I pray for poor women and their families and write encouraging letters to the ones I know. You can do similar things, and you'll feel great when you do. I urge you to read this book and start taking useful actions such as are suggested here . . . and not stop in that commitment.
I only detected one surprising slant in the book: The authors encourage supporting non-religious organizations and programs for the most part rather than religious ones. In so doing, some many readers will remain ignorant of superb religious organizations that are making a huge difference on these issues.
Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Donald Mitchell. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.