Monday, October 19, 2015

Book Review: Half the Sky

Half the Sky book review
One night as we were getting ready for bed, I had the following conversation with my husband:

Me: "Hey, thanks for not beating me up, and sleeping around with prostitutes and thereby infecting me with aids."

Him: "Wow. Setting the bar pretty low there, aren't you?"

Me: "Apparently, worldwide, that's a pretty high bar as husbands go. Also, thanks for not spending all our money on alcohol so there's nothing to feed the kids."

Him: "You're welcome."

Obviously, this conversation happened while I was in the middle of Half the Sky.

This book is written by Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn, two activists and Pulitzer prize winning journalists, who share stories and experiences from Africa through Asia, describing what life is like for women in the developing world.

Before reading this book, here is what I knew. I knew that historically, women were treated terribly in pretty much every culture. But then feminism happened and now, while there's still discrimination and unequal pay and stuff like that, at least the law is on our side when we get raped or beat or whatever. So life as a woman in the modern world? Not all that bad. In my case, pretty awesome, actually.

Color me naive for thinking it was like this world-wide, for thinking that even though discrimination lingers, women in general today have made great gains and laws everywhere recognize us as human beings and protect basic rights.

What I know now: Millions, and I mean millions, of girls are killed (or allowed to die) every year simply because of their gender. Thousands of girls (maybe millions) are forced into sex slavery every year, where they are not only physically and sexually abused, but are basically sentenced to an early death by aids. Millions more are denied education, forced into unwanted marriages, suffer all manner of abuse, die or suffer major complications from lack of proper maternal healthcare, and suffer major economic disadvantages because of their gender.

Also, men are pigs. In general. (Can I just say how grateful I am for the good men in my life that apparently prove the exception.)

This book was an absolutely tragic, heart-breaking, and necessary education for me. I really just had no idea. I had heard the term sex-trafficking before, but I didn't understand what it entailed. I was vaguely aware of higher abortion rates for female fetuses and female genital cutting in some cultures, and other oppressive practices, but I didn't know the facts. This book has not just the horrible statistics, it has the heart-breaking real-life personal stories that absolutely drive the point home. These are real women living in the same world as me, and yet they suffer unimaginable deprivation not just because of poverty, but because of gender.

This was one of those books that I wasn't necessarily eager to pick up. Who wants to read a book about super depressing things? But once I started, it became one of those books I couldn't stop talking about. I just couldn't believe the stories and the statistics. I couldn't believe how unaware I was that life was like this for so many women today. It hurts to read some of this stuff, it certainly is depressing. But I'm also so glad I know now, because nothing will change unless people are aware.

What I appreciated very much about this book is that while they were brutally honest about the successes, and more often the failure, of aid efforts world-wide, they were also hopeful and offered some very practical, very concrete actions that everyday people can take to support causes that actually work to improve the lives of women (and thus children, and men, and entire countries) world-wide. My husband and I talked about funding a microloan through Kiva as one of our goals for charitable action in 2016, but they vet several other organizations and projects that also seem very worthy, and offer lots of suggestions for raising awareness in even small ways (like traveling with children to poverty areas, something both my husband and I support and want to do at some point).

As a caveat, I will say that I don't 100% agree with all of the policies supported by the authors. There's some tricky moral ground when it comes to abortion rights and sex-ed efforts world-wide, and other aid goals that I wasn't sure were necessarily best practices. But when it comes to supporting more education for women world-wide, you can bet I'm on board with that. And when it comes to educating us, here in America, about these issues, I also support that. Which is why I heartily recommend this book for everyone, women and men alike. Depressing as the facts may be, this book is informative, moving, and hopefully motivating.

1 comment:

  1. Just had to smile at your opening conversation, that's the sort of thing I would say to my husband and that would be exactly his response. Yep we're very blessed we are married to the good guys