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Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

4.2 242
by Nicholas D. Kristof, Sheryl WuDunn

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#1 National Bestseller

From two of our most fiercely moral voices, a passionate call to arms against our era’s most pervasive human rights violation: the oppression of women and girls in the developing world.

With Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn as our guides, we undertake an odyssey through Africa and Asia to meet


#1 National Bestseller

From two of our most fiercely moral voices, a passionate call to arms against our era’s most pervasive human rights violation: the oppression of women and girls in the developing world.

With Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn as our guides, we undertake an odyssey through Africa and Asia to meet the extraordinary women struggling there, among them a Cambodian teenager sold into sex slavery and an Ethiopian woman who suffered devastating injuries in childbirth. Drawing on the breadth of their combined reporting experience, Kristof and WuDunn depict our world with anger, sadness, clarity, and, ultimately, hope.

They show how a little help can transform the lives of women and girls abroad. That Cambodian girl eventually escaped from her brothel and, with assistance from an aid group, built a thriving retail business that supports her family. The Ethiopian woman had her injuries repaired and in time became a surgeon. A Zimbabwean mother of five, counseled to return to school, earned her doctorate and became an expert on AIDS.

Through these stories, Kristof and WuDunn help us see that the key to economic progress lies in unleashing women’s potential. They make clear how so many people have helped to do just that, and how we can each do our part. Throughout much of the world, the greatest unexploited economic resource is the female half of the population. Countries such as China have prospered precisely because they emancipated women and brought them into the formal economy. Unleashing that process globally is not only the right thing to do; it’s also the best strategy for fighting poverty.

Deeply felt, pragmatic, and inspirational, Half the Sky is essential reading for every global citizen.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Opens our eyes to an enormous humanitarian issue.”
            —Washington Post 10 Best Books of the Year
“Vitally important. . . . Heartbreaking, galvanizing, and unforgettable.”
            —Publishers Weekly Top 100 Books of 2009
“This book isn't a sermon. . . . These stories are electrifying and have the effect of breaking down this enormous problem into segments the reader can focus on. Suddenly, these horrendous problems begin to seem solvable . . . Again, this book is not a sermon about victims. Its range is wide, and sometimes it's even funny . . . Half the Sky is a call to arms, a call for help, a call for contributions, but also a call for volunteers. It asks us to open our eyes to this enormous humanitarian issue. It does so with exquisitely crafted prose and sensationally interesting material . . . I really do think this is one of the most important books I have ever reviewed.”
            —Carolyn See, The Washington Post
“Passionate yet practical. . . . [Half the Sky] is both stirring and sensible . . . This wonderful book combines a denunciation of horrible abuses with clear-eyed hope and some compelling practical strategies.  The courageous women described here, and millions more like them, deserve nothing less.”
            —Martha Nussbaum, The New York Times
“Women facing poverty, oppression, and violence are usually viewed as victims.  Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s Half the Sky shows that unimaginable challenges are often met with breathtaking bravery.  These stories show us the power and resilience of women who would have every reason to give up but never do.  They will be an inspiration for anyone who reads this book, and a model for those fighting for justice around the world.  You will not want to put this book down.”
            —Angelina Jolie
“If you have always wondered whether you can change the world, read this book.  Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn have written a brilliant call to arms that describes one of the transcendent injustices in the world today—the brutal treatment of women.  They take you to many countries, introduce you to extraordinary women, and tell you their moving tales.  Throughout, the tone is practical not preachy and the book’s suggestions as to how you can make a difference are simple, sensible, and yet powerful.  The authors vividly describe a terrible reality about the world we live in but they also provide light and hope that we can, in fact, change it.”
            —Fareed Zakaria, author, The Post-American World
“I think it’s impossible to stand by and do nothing after reading Half the Sky.  It does what we need most, it bears witness to the sheer cruelty that mankind can do to mankind.”
            —George Clooney
“It’s impossible to exaggerate the importance of this book about one of the most serious problems of our time: the worldwide abuse and exploitation of women.  In addition to describing the injustices, Kristof and WuDunn show how concerned individuals everywhere are working effectively to empower women and help them overcome adversity.  Wonderfully written and vividly descriptive, Half the Sky can and should galvanize support for reform on all levels.  Inspiring as it is shocking, this book demands to be read.”  
           —Anne Rice
“Half the Sky is a passionate and persuasive plea to all of us to rise up and say ‘No more!’ to the 17th-century abuses to girls and women in the 21st-century world.  This is a book that will pierce your heart and arouse your conscience.  It is a powerful piece of journalism by two masters of the craft who are tireless in their pursuit of one of the most shameful conditions of our time.”
            —Tom Brokaw
“The stories that Kristof and WuDunn share are as powerful as they are heartbreaking.  Their insight into gender issues and the role of women in development inspires hope, optimism, and most importantly, the will to change.  Both a brutal awakening and an unmistakable call to action, this book should be read by all.”
           —Melinda Gates
“An unblinking look at one of the seminal moral challenges of our time.  This stirring book is at once a savage indictment of gender inequality in the developing world and an inspiring testament to these women’s courage, resilience, and their struggle for hope and recovery.  An unexpectedly uplifting read.”
            —Khaled Hosseini, author, The Kite Runner
“While we rightly roared at racial apartheid, we act as though gender apartheid is a natural, immutable fact.  With absolutely the right Molotov cocktail of on-the-ground reporting and hard social science, Kristof and WuDunn blow up this taboo. . . . A thrilling manifesto for advancing freedom for hundreds of millions of human beings.”
            —Johann Hari, Slate.com
“The most important book of the year. . . . Half the Sky is the kind of book that could change the course of history.”
            —William Petrocelli, The Huffington Post
“How many books make a significant difference in matters that concern everyone who lives on earth?  Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn have certainly written such a book.  Half the Sky is the most important book that I have read since Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, published in 1962. . . . Half the Sky is a groundbreaking, eye-opening book, stunning in every sense.”
            —Charles R. Larson, CounterPunch
“Urgent. . . . Passionate. . . . Compelling. . . . Half the Sky is a grab-the-reader-by-the-lapels wake-up call.”
            —Bill Williams, The Boston Globe
“Superb . . . As Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring once catalyzed us to save our birds and better steward our earth, Half the Sky stands to become a classic, spurring us to spare impoverished women these terrors, and elevate them to turn around the future of their nations.”
            —Susan Ager, Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Stunning. . . . [Half the Sky] belongs on the ‘must-read’ list because it offers perspective, insight, and clear-eyed optimism for why and how each of us can and should meet one of the great moral and humanitarian challenges of our times.”
            —Bill Gates, Sr., The Huffington Post

“Any review of this book should begin without pretence; in the plainest language. Unadorned. Unembellished. Understandable. It should begin with the five following words: This is an important book! Exclamation indicated.”
          —New Strait Times
Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, the first married couple to win a Pulitzer for journalism, have traveled widely through the developing world, researching the plight of women and girls. The stories they have brought back for Half the Sky are harrowing, but this book also delivers a message of hope. In example after example, they show that even small assistance can improve and, indeed, transform the lives of these oppressed victims. A soulful prescription for a pervasive human rights disgrace.
Irshad Manji
…this gripping call to conscience…tackles atrocities and indignities from sex trafficking to maternal mortality, from obstetric fistulas to acid attacks, and absorbing the fusillade of horrors can feel like an assault of its own. But the poignant portraits of survivors humanize the issues, divulging facts that moral outrage might otherwise eclipse.
—The New York Times
Carolyn See
Half the Sky is a call to arms, a call for help, a call for contributions, but also a call for volunteers. It asks us to open our eyes to this enormous humanitarian issue. It does so with exquisitely crafted prose and sensationally interesting material. It provides us with a list of individual hospitals, schools and small charities so that we can contribute to, or at least inform ourselves about, this largely unknown world. I really do think this is one of the most important books I have ever reviewed. I may be wrong, but I don't think so.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
New York Times columnist Kristof and his wife, WuDunn, a former Times reporter, make a brilliantly argued case for investing in the health and autonomy of women worldwide. “More girls have been killed in the last fifty years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the wars of the twentieth century,” they write, detailing the rampant “gendercide” in the developing world, particularly in India and Pakistan. Far from merely making moral appeals, the authors posit that it is impossible for countries to climb out of poverty if only a fraction of women (9% in Pakistan, for example) participate in the labor force. China's meteoric rise was due to women's economic empowerment: 80% of the factory workers in the Guangdong province are female; six of the 10 richest self-made women in the world are Chinese. The authors reveal local women to be the most effective change agents: “The best role for Americans... isn't holding the microphone at the front of the rally but writing the checks,” an assertion they contradict in their unnecessary profiles of American volunteers finding “compensations for the lack of shopping malls and Netflix movies” in making a difference abroad. (Sept.)
Library Journal
Kristof and WuDunn, the first married couple ever both to win Pulitzer Prizes for journalism, here expose the brutal horrors endured by millions of women throughout Asia and Africa, putting names and faces to these individuals and their suffering. They argue that the key to change is social entrepreneurs who can empower at the grassroots level through such means as education and microloans. With her soothing delivery, actress/narrator Cassandra Campbell (The School of Essential Ingredients) avoids sensationalizing this already dramatic material, whose accounts of gang rape, forced prostitution, and childbirth injuries make for painful but essential adult listening. Strongly recommended. [The Knopf hc, which published in September 2009, was a New York Times best seller; the pb will release in May 2010.—Ed.]—Risa Getman, Hendrick Hudson Free Lib., Montrose, NY
Kirkus Reviews
A Pulitzer Prize-winning husband-and-wife reporter team track the growing movement to empower women in the developing world. Kristof and WuDunn (Thunder from the East: Portrait of a Rising Asia, 2000, etc.) traveled through Africa and Southeast Asia meeting with victims of sex trafficking, forced prostitution and various forms of gender-based neglect and violence, as well as interviewing those who are making a difference in the lives of impoverished and abused women. While they provide historical background and cite grim statistics to back their claims of oppression, the impact of their report comes from the personal stories of remarkable women, such as Mukhtar Mai, a Pakistani woman who was gang-raped. Instead of killing herself as was expected by her culture, she fought back, won compensation and is using the money to build a girls' high school. The authors argue that fighting back is key and that education that will empower women is crucial to changing culturally embedded attitudes. Along with the success stories, Kristof and WuDunn report on the failure of large-scale international aid, which often comes in the form of what they term "tree-top" projects as opposed to grassroots efforts. The authors are especially effective at getting women to speak openly about their lives, and they do not hesitate to write about unpleasant facts, bad outcomes and unintended consequences: Women are often the abusers of other women; women freed from brothels sometimes return for drugs or money; introduction of a cash crop to help women earn money for their families can end up polluting the environment. Also noteworthy is the authors' willingness to say what is politically incorrect: When microloans aremade to men, the money is likely to go toward instant gratification-alcohol, drugs and prostitutes-while women are more apt to spend it on family health and educating children. Pointing out that the emancipation of girls enabled China's economic surge and that the status of women is "the greatest handicap of Muslim Middle Eastern societies today," Kristof and WuDunn forcefully contend that improving the lot of girls and women benefits everyone. They conclude with specific steps that individuals can take to support the empowerment movement. Intelligent, revealing and important. First printing of 50,000
Washington Post
“I really do think this is one of the most important books I have ever reviewed.”
—Carolyn See, The Washington Post
Bill Gates
“Cassandra Campbell’s somber reading couldn’t be more attuned to the authors’ mission as she interprets writing that is as intense as it gets. Her impressive depth carries listeners through the book's gruesome lows and inspiring highs, and ultimately to a place where they cannot dismiss this human rights tragedy.”
AudioFile [Earphones Award Winner]
Fareed Zakaria
“I really do think this is one of the most important books I have ever reviewed.”
—Carolyn See, The Washington Post

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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Read an Excerpt


The Girl Effect

What would men be without women? Scarce, sir, mighty scarce.


Srey Rath is a self-confident Cambodian teenager whose black hair tumbles over a round, light brown face. She is in a crowded street market, standing beside a pushcart and telling her story calmly, with detachment. The only hint of anxiety or trauma is the way she often pushes her hair from in front of her black eyes, perhaps a nervous tic. Then she lowers her hand and her long fingers gesticulate and flutter in the air with incongruous grace as she recounts her odyssey.

Rath is short and small-boned, pretty, vibrant, and bubbly, a wisp of a girl whose negligible stature contrasts with an outsized and outgoing personality.When the skies abruptly release a tropical rain shower that drenches us, she simply laughs and rushes us to cover under a tin roof, and then cheerfully continues her story as the rain drums overhead. But Rath's attractiveness and winning personality are perilous bounties for a rural Cambodian girl, and her trusting nature and optimistic self-assuredness compound the hazard.

When Rath was fifteen, her family ran out of money, so she decided to go work as a dishwasher in Thailand for two months to help pay the bills. Her parents fretted about her safety, but they were reassured when Rath arranged to travel with four friends who had been promised jobs in the same Thai restaurant.The job agent took the girls deep into Thailand and then handed them to gangsters who took them to Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. Rath was dazzled by her first glimpses of the city's clean avenues and gleaming high-rises, including at the time the world's tallest twin buildings; it seemed safe and welcoming. But then thugs sequestered Rath and two other girls inside a karaoke lounge that operated as a brothel. One gangster in his late thirties, a man known as "the boss," took charge of the girls and explained that he had paid money for them and that they would now be obliged to repay him."You must find money to pay off the debt, and then I will send you back home," he said, repeatedly reassuring them that if they cooperated they would eventually be released.

Rath was shattered when what was happening dawned on her. The boss locked her up with a customer, who tried to force her to have sex with him. She fought back, enraging the customer. "So the boss got angry and hit me in the face, first with one hand and then with the other," she remembers, telling her story with simple resignation. "The mark stayed on my face for two weeks." Then the boss and the other gangsters raped her and beat her with their fists.

"You have to serve the customers," the boss told her as he punched her. "If not, we will beat you to death. Do you want that?" Rath stopped protesting, but she sobbed and refused to cooperate actively. The boss forced her to take a pill; the gangsters called it "the happy drug" or "the shake drug." She doesn't know exactly what it was, but it made her head shake and induced lethargy, happiness, and compliance for about an hour.When she wasn't drugged, Rath was teary and insufficiently compliant—she was required to beam happily at all customers—so the boss said he would waste no more time on her: She would agree to do as he ordered or he would kill her. Rath then gave in.The girls were forced to work in the brothel seven days a week, fifteen hours a day. They were kept naked to make it more difficult for them to run away or to keep tips or other money, and they were forbidden to ask customers to use condoms. They were battered until they smiled constantly and simulated joy at the sight of customers, because men would not pay as much for sex with girls with reddened eyes and haggard faces.The girls were never allowed out on the street or paid a penny for their work.

"They just gave us food to eat, but they didn't give us much because the customers didn't like fat girls," Rath says. The girls were bused, under guard, back and forth between the brothel and a tenth-floor apartment where a dozen of them were housed.The door of the apartment was locked from the outside. However, one night, some of the girls went out onto their balcony and pried loose a long, five-inch-wide board from a rack used for drying clothes. They balanced it precariously between their balcony and one on the next building, twelve feet away. The board wobbled badly, but Rath was desperate, so she sat astride the board and gradually inched across.

"There were four of us who did that," she says."The others were too scared, because it was very rickety. I was scared, too, and I couldn't look down, but I was even more scared to stay.We thought that even if we died, it would be better than staying behind. If we stayed, we would die as well."

Once on the far balcony, the girls pounded on the window and woke the surprised tenant.They could hardly communicate with him because none of them spoke Malay, but the tenant let them into his apartment and then out its front door.The girls took the elevator down and wandered the silent streets until they found a police station and stepped inside.The police first tried to shoo them away, then arrested the girls for illegal immigration. Rath served a year in prison under Malaysia's tough anti-immigrant laws, and then she was supposed to be repatriated. She thought a Malaysian policeman was escorting her home when he drove her to the Thai border—but then he sold her to a trafficker, who peddled her to a Thai brothel.

Rath's saga offers a glimpse of the brutality inflicted routinely on women and girls in much of the world, a malignancy that is slowly gaining recognition as one of the paramount human rights problems of this century.

The issues involved, however, have barely registered on the global agenda. Indeed,when we began reporting about international affairs in the 1980s, we couldn't have imagined writing this book.We assumed that the foreign policy issues that properly furrowed the brow were lofty and complex, like nuclear nonproliferation. It was difficult back then to envision the Council on Foreign Relations fretting about maternal mortality or female genital mutilation.Back then, the oppression of women was a fringe issue, the kind of worthy cause the Girl Scouts might raise money for. We preferred to probe the recondite "serious issues."

So this book is the outgrowth of our own journey of awakening as we worked together as journalists for The New York Times. The first milestone in that journey came in China. Sheryl is a Chinese-American who grew up in New York City, and Nicholas is an Oregonian who grew up on a sheep and cherry farm near Yamhill, Oregon. After we married, we moved to China, where seven months later we found ourselves standing on the edge of Tiananmen Square watching troops fire their automatic weapons at prodemocracy protesters. The massacre claimed between four hundred and eight hundred lives and transfixed the world. It was the human rights story of the year, and it seemed just about the most shocking violation imaginable.

Then, the following year, we came across an obscure but meticulous demographic study that outlined a human rights violation that had claimed tens of thousands more lives.This study found that thirty-nine thousand baby girls die annually in China because parents don't give them the same medical care and attention that boys receive—and that is just in the first year of life. One Chinese family-planning official, Li Honggui, explained it this way: "If a boy gets sick, the parents may send him to the hospital at once. But if a girl gets sick, the parents may say to themselves, 'Well, let's see how she is tomorrow.' "The result is that as many infant girls die unnecessarily every week in China as protesters died in the one incident at Tiananmen. Those Chinese girls never received a column inch of news coverage, and we began to wonder if our journalistic priorities were skewed.

A similar pattern emerged in other countries, particularly in South Asia and the Muslim world. In India, a "bride burning"—to punish a woman for an inadequate dowry or to eliminate her so a man can remarry—takes place approximately once every two hours, but these rarely constitute news. In the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi, Pakistan, five thousand women and girls have been doused in kerosene and set alight by family members or in-laws—or, perhaps worse, been seared with acid—for perceived disobedience just in the last nine years. Imagine the outcry if the Pakistani or Indian governments were burning women alive at those rates. Yet when the government is not directly involved, people shrug.

When a prominent dissident was arrested in China, we would write a front-page article; when 100,000 girls were routinely kidnapped and trafficked into brothels, we didn't even consider it news. Partly that is because we journalists tend to be good at covering events that happen on a particular day, but we slip at covering events that happen every day—such as the quotidian cruelties inflicted on women and girls.We journalists weren't the only ones who dropped the ball on this subject: Less than 1 percent of U.S. foreign aid is specifically targeted to women and girls.

Amartya Sen, the ebullient Nobel Prize–winning economist, has developed a gauge of gender inequality that is a striking reminder of the stakes involved. "More than 100 million women are missing," Sen wrote in a classic essay in 1990 in The New York Review of Books, spurring a new field of research. Sen noted that in normal circumstances women live longer than men, and so there are more females than males in much of the world. Even poor regions like most of Latin America and much of Africa have more females than males.Yet in places where girls have a deeply unequal status, they vanish. China has 107 males for every 100 females in its overall population (and an even greater disproportion among newborns), India has 108, and Pakistan has 111. This has nothing to do with biology, and indeed the state of Kerala in the southwest of India, which has championed female education and equality, has the same excess of females that exists in the United States.

The implication of the sex ratios, Professor Sen found, is that about 107 million females are missing from the globe today.Follow-up studies have calculated the number slightly differently, deriving alternative figures for "missing women"of between 60 million and 101 million. Every year, at least another 2 million girls worldwide disappear because of gender discrimination.

In the wealthy countries of the West, discrimination is usually a matter of unequal pay or underfunded sports teams or unwanted touching from a boss. In contrast, in much of the world discrimination is lethal. In India, for example, mothers are less likely to take their daughters to be vaccinated than their sons—that alone accounts for one fifth of India's missing females—while studies have found that, on average, girls are brought to the hospital only when they are sicker than boys taken to the hospital. All told, girls in India from one to five years of age are 50 percent more likely to die than boys the same age.The best estimate is that a little Indian girl dies from discrimination every four minutes.

A big, bearded Afghan named Sedanshah once told us that his wife and son were sick. He wanted both to survive, he said, but his priorities were clear: A son is an indispensable treasure, while a wife is replaceable. He had purchased medication for the boy alone. "She's always sick," he gruffly said of his wife, "so it's not worth buying medicine for her."

Modernization and technology can aggravate the discrimination. Since the 1990s, the spread of ultrasound machines has allowed pregnant women to find out the sex of their fetuses—and then get abortions if they are female. In Fujian Province, China, a peasant raved to us about ultrasound: "We don't have to have daughters anymore!"

To prevent sex-selective abortion, China and India now bar doctors and ultrasound technicians from telling a pregnant woman the sex of her fetus.Yet that is a flawed solution. Research shows that when parents are banned from selectively aborting female fetuses, more of their daughters die as infants. Mothers do not deliberately dispatch infant girls they are obligated to give birth to, but they are lackadaisical in caring for them. A development economist at Brown University, Nancy Qian, quantified the wrenching trade-off: On average, the deaths of fifteen infant girls can be avoided by allowing one hundred female fetuses to be selectively aborted.

The global statistics on the abuse of girls are numbing. It appears that more girls have been killed in the last fifty years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the wars of the twentieth century. More girls are killed in this routine "gendercide" in any one decade than people were slaughtered in all the genocides of the twentieth century.

In the nineteenth century, the central moral challenge was slavery. In the twentieth century, it was the battle against totalitarianism.We believe that in this century the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for gender equality in the developing world.

The owners of the Thai brothel to which Rath was sold did not beat her and did not constantly guard her. So two months later, she was able to escape and make her way back to Cambodia. Upon her return, Rath met a social worker who put her in touch with an aid group that helps girls who have been trafficked start new lives. The group, American Assistance for Cambodia, used $400 in donated funds to buy a small cart and a starter selection of goods so that Rath could become a street peddler. She found a good spot in the open area between the Thai and Cambodian customs offices in the border town of Poipet.Travelers crossing between Thailand and Cambodia walk along this strip, the size of a football field, and it is lined with peddlers selling drinks, snacks, and souvenirs.

Rath outfitted her cart with shirts and hats, costume jewelry, notebooks, pens, and small toys. Now her good looks and outgoing personality began to work in her favor, turning her into an effective saleswoman. She saved and invested in new merchandise, her business thrived, and she was able to support her parents and two younger sisters. She married and had a son, and she began saving for his education.

In 2008, Rath turned her cart into a stall, and then also acquired the stall next door. She also started a "public phone" business by charging people to use her cell phone. So if you ever cross from Thailand into Cambodia at Poipet, look for a shop on your left,
halfway down the strip, where a teenage girl will call out to you, smile, and try to sell you a souvenir cap. She'll laugh and claim she's giving you a special price, and she's so bubbly and appealing that she'll probably make the sale.

Rath's eventual triumph is a reminder that if girls get a chance, in the form of an education or a microloan, they can be more than baubles or slaves; many of them can run businesses. Talk to Rath today—after you've purchased that cap—and you find that she exudes confidence as she earns a solid income that will provide a better future for her sisters and for her young son. Many of the stories in this book are wrenching, but keep in mind this central truth: Women aren't the problem but the solution.The plight of girls is no more a tragedy than an opportunity.

That was a lesson we absorbed in Sheryl's ancestral village, at the end of a dirt road amid the rice paddies of southern China. For many years we have regularly trod the mud paths of the Taishan region to Shunshui, the hamlet in which Sheryl's paternal grandfather grew up. China traditionally has been one of the more repressive and smothering places for girls, and we could see hints of this in Sheryl's own family history. Indeed, on our first visit, we accidentally uncovered a family secret: a long-lost stepgrandmother. Sheryl's grandfather had traveled to America with his first wife, but she had given birth only to daughters. So Sheryl's grandfather gave up on her and returned her to Shunshui, where he married a younger woman as a second wife and took her to America.This was Sheryl's grandmother, who duly gave birth to a son—Sheryl's dad.The previous wife and daughters were then wiped out of the family memory.

Something bothered us each time we explored Shunshui and the surrounding villages:Where were the young women? Young men were toiling industriously in the paddies or fanning themselves indolently in the shade, but young women and girls were scarce.We finally discovered them when we stepped into the factories that were then spreading throughout Guangdong Province, the epicenter of China's economic eruption.These factories produced the shoes, toys, and shirts that filled America's shopping malls, generating economic growth rates almost unprecedented in the history of the world—and creating the most effective antipoverty program ever recorded.The factories turned out to be cacophonous hives of distaff bees. Eighty percent of the employees on the assembly lines in coastal China are female, and the proportion across the manufacturing belt of East Asia is at least 70 percent. The economic explosion in Asia was, in large part, an outgrowth of the economic empowerment of women. "They have smaller fingers, so they're better at stitching," the manager of a purse factory explained to us. "They're obedient and work harder than men," said the head of a toy factory."And we can pay them less."

Women are indeed a linchpin of the region's development strategy. Economists who scrutinized East Asia's success noted a common pattern. These countries took young women who previously had contributed negligibly to gross national product (GNP) and injected them into the formal economy, hugely increasing the labor force. The basic formula was to ease repression, educate girls as well as boys, give the girls the freedom to move to the cities and take factory jobs, and then benefit from a demographic dividend as they delayed marriage and reduced childbearing.The women meanwhile financed the education of younger relatives, and saved enough of their pay to boost national savings rates.This pattern has been called "the girl effect." In a nod to the female chromosomes, it could also be called "the double X solution."

Evidence has mounted that helping women can be a successful poverty-fighting strategy anywhere in the world, not just in the booming economies of East Asia.The Self Employed Women's Association was founded in India in 1972 and ever since has supported the poorest women in starting businesses—raising living standards in ways that have dazzled scholars and foundations.
In Bangladesh, Muhammad Yunus developed microfinance at the Grameen Bank and targeted women borrowers—eventually winning a Nobel Peace Prize for the economic and social impact of his work. Another Bangladeshi group, BRAC, the largest antipoverty organization in the world, worked with the poorest women to save lives and raise incomes—and Grameen and BRAC made the aid world increasingly see women not just as potential beneficiaries of their work, but as agents of it.

In the early 1990s, the United Nations and the World Bank began to appreciate the potential resource that women and girls represent. "Investment in girls' education may well be the highest-return investment available in the developing world," Lawrence Summers wrote when he was chief economist of the World Bank. "The question is not whether countries can afford this investment, but whether countries can afford not to educate more girls." In 2001 the World Bank produced an influential study, Engendering Development Through Gender Equality in Rights, Resources, and Voice, arguing that promoting gender equality is crucial to combat global poverty. UNICEF issued a major report arguing that gender equality yields a "double dividend" by elevating not only women but also their children and communities. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) summed up the mounting research this way:"Women's empowerment helps raise economic productivity and reduce infant mortality. It contributes to improved health and nutrition. It increases the chances of education for the next generation."

More and more, the most influential scholars of development and public health—including Sen and Summers, Joseph Stiglitz, Jeffrey Sachs, and Dr. Paul Farmer—are calling for much greater attention to women in development. Private aid groups and foundations have shifted gears as well."Women are the key to ending hunger in Africa," declared the Hunger Project. French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner, who founded Doctors Without Borders, bluntly declared of development: "Progress is achieved through women." The Center for Global Development issued a major report explaining "why and how to put girls at the center of development."CARE is taking women and girls as the centerpiece of its antipoverty efforts.The Nike Foundation and the NoVo Foundation are both focusing on building opportunities for girls in the developing world. "Gender inequality hurts economic growth," Goldman Sachs concluded in a 2008 research report that emphasized how much developing countries could improve their economic performance by educating girls. Partly as a result of that research,Goldman Sachs committed $100 million to a"10,000Women" campaign meant to give that many women a business education.

Concerns about terrorism after the 9/11 attacks triggered interest in these issues in an unlikely constituency: the military and counterterrorism agencies. Some security experts noted that the countries that nurture terrorists are disproportionally those where women are marginalized. The reason there are so many Muslim terrorists, they argued, has little to do with the Koran but a great deal to do with the lack of robust female participation in the economy and society of many Islamic countries. As the Pentagon gained a deeper understanding of counterterrorism, and as it found that dropping bombs often didn't do much to help, it became increasingly interested in grassroots projects such as girls' education. Empowering girls, some in the military argued, would disempower terrorists.When the Joint Chiefs of Staff hold discussions of girls' education in Pakistan and Afghanistan, as they did in 2008, you know that gender is a serious topic that fits squarely on the international affairs agenda.That's evident also in the Council on Foreign Relations.The wood-paneled halls that have been used for discussions of MIRV warheads and NATO policy are now employed as well to host well-attended sessions on maternal mortality.

We will try to lay out an agenda for the world's women focusing on three particular abuses: sex trafficking and forced prostitution;
gender-based violence, including honor killings and mass rape; and maternal mortality, which still needlessly claims one woman a minute.We will lay out solutions such as girls' education and microfinance, which are working right now.

It's true that there are many injustices in the world, many worthy causes competing for attention and support, and we all have divided allegiances.We focus on this topic because, to us, this kind of oppression feels transcendent—and so does the opportunity.We have seen that outsiders can truly make a significant difference.

Consider Rath once more.We had been so shaken by her story that we wanted to locate that brothel in Malaysia, interview its owners, and try to free the girls still imprisoned there. Unfortunately, we couldn't determine the brothel's name or address. (Rath didn't know English or even the Roman alphabet, so she hadn't been able to read signs when she was there.) When we asked her if she would be willing to return to Kuala Lumpur and help us find the brothel, she turned ashen. "I don't know," she said. "I don't want to face that again." She wavered, talked it over with her family, and ultimately agreed to go back in the hope of rescuing her girlfriends.

Rath voyaged back to Kuala Lumpur with the protection of an interpreter and a local antitrafficking activist. Nonetheless, she trembled in the red-light districts upon seeing the cheerful neon signs that she associated with so much pain. But since her escape, Malaysia had been embarrassed by public criticism about trafficking, so the police had cracked down on the worst brothels that imprisoned girls against their will. One of those was Rath's.A modest amount of international scolding had led a government to take action, resulting in an observable improvement in the lives of girls at the bottom of the power pyramid. The outcome underscores that this is a hopeful cause, not a bleak one.

Honor killings, sexual slavery, and genital cutting may seem to Western readers to be tragic but inevitable in a world far, far away. In much the same way, slavery was once widely viewed by many decent Europeans and Americans as a regrettable but ineluctable feature of human life. It was just one more horror that had existed for thousands of years. But then in the 1780s a few indignant Britons, led by William Wilberforce, decided that slavery was so offensive that they had to abolish it. And they did.Today we see the seed of something similar: a global movement to emancipate women and girls.

So let us be clear about this up front:We hope to recruit you to join an incipient movement to emancipate women and fight global poverty by unlocking women's power as economic catalysts.That is the process under way—not a drama of victimization but of empowerment, the kind that transforms bubbly teenage girls from brothel slaves into successful businesswomen.

This is a story of transformation. It is change that is already taking place, and change that can accelerate if you'll just open your heart and join in.


What People are Saying About This

Angelina Jolie
“These stories show us the power and resilience of women who would have every reason to give up but never do. They will be an inspiration for anyone who reads this book, and a model for those fighting for justice around the world. You will not want to put this book down.”
—Angelina Jolie
Tom Brokaw
Half the Sky is a passionate and persuasive plea to all of us to rise up and say ‘No more!’ to the 17th-century abuses to girls and women in the 21st-century world. This is a book that will pierce your heart and arouse your conscience.”
—Tom Brokaw
George Clooney
“I think it’s impossible to stand by and do nothing after reading Half the Sky. It does what we need most, it bears witness to the sheer cruelty that mankind can do to mankind.”
—George Clooney

Meet the Author

Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, are the first married couple to win a Pulitzer Prize in journalism for their coverage of China as New York Times correspondents. They received the 2009 Dayton Literary Peace Prize for Lifetime Achievement and many other prizes including the George Polk and Overseas Press Club awards.
Mr. Kristof won a second Pulitzer in 2006, for “his graphic, deeply reported columns that, at personal risk, focused attention on genocide in Darfur.” He has also served as bureau chief in Hong Kong, Beijing, and Tokyo, and as associate managing editor.

Ms. WuDunn, now a business executive, worked at The New York Times, on both the business and news sides. She has been a foreign correspondent in Asia, a business editor and a television anchor. She is the first Asian-American to receive a Pulitzer Prize.
They live near New York City.

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Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 242 reviews.
Water1st-Marla More than 1 year ago
I believe in book's main premise: by empowering women and girls, we can change the world and help end poverty. However, I found it disappointing and shocking to read this entire book and not find a single story about water and sanitation. You can't even find the word "water" in the index. No doubt, the stories Nick and Sheryl tell are horrific and inspiring, and women living in poverty face obstacles that I can't even imagine. But, as I read it, I felt it was more of a collection of anecdotes from Nick and Sheryl's international travels rather than as advertised: a "must-read" and "call to arms" about how we can end global poverty. Having spent 19 years working in international aid, I don't see how you can seriously talk about helping women in poverty and not mention water or sanitation. For millions of girls from poor households, there is a straight tradeoff between time spent in school and time spent collecting water. For their mothers, time spent collecting water means they have little time for more productive work or rest. Being without access to water means that to obtain the water they need to survive, people resort to ditches, rivers and lakes polluted with human or animal excrement, and they carry that water home on their heads or backs, causing chronic back pains and sores, wearing flip flops if they are wearing shoes at all, walking uphill on steep, rocky or muddy paths. This daily walk for water saps their energy, diminishes their health status, and prevents them from participating in economic and social activities that are vital to the development of communities. Each day, * Women spend the equivalent of 340 million work days on water collection * Poor families spend $137 million is spent on treatment of water-related diseases * 5 million girls are collecting water instead of attending school * 7,000 children worldwide die from the lack of safe water and a toilet Poverty and water are inextricably linked. What began as a hopeful read has unfortunately left me jaded and wondering if providing PVC piping and septic tanks just don't have the emotional appeal and book-selling potential of sex slavery and genital mutilation. So I'm in! Let's invest in women. I believe it will pay off. But we have to be smart about it. I've met too many girls who dropped out of school at the age of 6 to help their mothers carry water, so it makes no sense to me to invest in education in a community with no toilets or accessible, safe water supplies. It makes no sense to me to build a health clinic of any kind in a community without toilets or water either, because 80% of the illnesses that will come into that clinic will be caused by the lack of water and toilets. I'm also a believer in micro-lending, but I've met a lot of people who have defaulted on their loans in order to pay medical bills for a family member suffering from diarrhea. I'm excited that people are talking about women and development. But I'm disappointed at this missed opportunity to talk about the vital links between water and sanitation and poverty and empowerment. We need to act appropriately to ensure that the lack of attention to water and sanitation does not undermine all other development goals.
Meltivore More than 1 year ago
Nick and Sheryl truly expose the tragedy that is gender discrimination. Through powerful and painful, yet uplifting, stories they paint a vivid picture of what it is to be a woman in societies where they are given little or no value. With all the heart-wrenching tragedy they also show that progress is being made and hope is not futile. This book truly has changed my perspective on what I consider a bad day and the first world problems I face, such as a long line at Starbucks. It has also propelled me into action and I am now committed to making a difference in women¿s lives.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The title of this book comes from an old Chinese proverb: women hold up half the sky. The Pulitzer Prize-winning authors lead us into the world of women in developing countries: breaking the silence about vaginal fistulas that ostracize thousands and thousands of girls; trafficking of girls and women; discussing the reality of wife-beatings as prevalent; and other contemporary issues facing women in a variety of cultures around the world. But they don't stop there, they then share the wonderful stories of hope and empowerment: through self-help projects; access to education; and micro-credit loans. One telling statement with its source in the US military, to paraphrase: where girls and women are educated, terrorism is not prevalent.
DebbieAC More than 1 year ago
This book was an easy read, although the topic is not normally one I would choose. It was hopeful and often stories are told first-hand through the eyes of those women rather than the world. I listened to it end to end—during my commute. It’s well-written and well-told. You will not put this down. It might even compel you to action. I How can a country and culture or the world thrive, when half its resources go untapped? When half of our world is debased and marginalized, and not permitted to actively participate in society, the world is a poorer place. We are talking about the female in society within less developed parts of the world. Mass and gang rapes (including as a war tactic), kidnapping, sex trafficking & brothels, the cult of virginity and the hymen, sexual honor in the mid-east, honor killing, and genital mutilation and cutting—-take place daily against our female sisters globally. Like slavery, females are devalued as human beings in many cultures and countries. Women hold just 1% of land that is titled, according to the United Nations. They have no opportunity to contribute to society in a meaningful way. This book tells us that when half the people of the world are allowed to contribute, the difference is markedly positive for a country’s GDP and its people. These countries that devalue women include Pakistan, China, India, Liberia, Africa, Eastern Europe and SE Asia. Empowerment and education are the steps to preventing these behaviors, and family planning and birth control, including education to reduce family size. The availability and funding of condoms to prevent AIDS in poor countries. Grassroots social movements are far more effective than laws and large aid $$$ that don’t reach the poor. Societal issues against women are a cultural norm, and that does not change even with the laws say otherwise. Education helps change oppressive culture. The U.S. sometimes is seen as sitting in moral judgment when there might be better actions to help stem this tide. Capitalism achieves more than what charity and good intentions sometimes cannot: Micro credit loans are a revolution, in helping people help themselves. This book shares online sites where you can lookup and participate in this micro lending right down to the country, town and woman. There is a double standard regarding sexism and misogyny for female vs. male population Women are lured by false promises of jobs, that turn out to be rape-run brothels. In addition to the act of rape itself, there is a social stigma attached to rape and the victim often is cast out by her family and village. Rape victims are punished not the perpetrators and often women are forced to marry their attackers (and no one else will have them). There is no protection from police, courts, or the public. There is a high rate of female infanticide. Just by being female, fetuses are often aborted, babies allowed to die, or through-out their lives, receive less (or no) medical care vs. males. Women also grow up to be the perpetrators of these same crimes against other women. Women who are damaged physically by rape or childbirth or disease are abandoned as modern-day lepers, especially females in poor rural areas. High rates of death occur among these same women during child birth. Health care is poor overall, and women receive the lowest (or no) priority. Some countries have young females paired up with old “Sugar Daddies” –with a trade off of material goods for sex. Middle aged men take teenagers as baubles in exchange for money and gifts. These older men are more likely to have AIDS and pass it on. There is a shortage of doctors, supplies and facilities in many countries. Conservative religious attitudes related to culture are repressive to women. Sexual abuse, arranged marriage, and virginity testing are all practices that contribute to the problem This book outlines the problem, and some solutions that have shown success, and how we can get involved at any level. Go to the end for explicit referrals where you can source for where and how you can help—on any level. I will concur with another reviewer--and I had not thought of this--that no mention of the (lack of) water and sanitation were mentioned. But I still found it a compellng book, bringing a topic we hear about, to a much closer view.
Lynn20NJ More than 1 year ago
An engaging, absorbing book with powerful recommendations. Not as depressing as one might imagine given the subject matter.
Wanalee86 More than 1 year ago
I dived into this book so I could get it out of the way. It turns out I could not put it down and it made me want to make a difference. I am an education major now I am considering going abroad to teach.
RevJay More than 1 year ago
Half the Sky is the most powerful book I have ever read. First person accounts of women suffering horrific abuse are unforgettable. While the reader is confronted with the stark realities that many women wordwide face, the authors also provide concrete tools and encouragement on how to make a real difference in the world. The authors invite us to join a revolution. I, for one, am reporting for duty!
asmiles More than 1 year ago
This book has been a blessing for me. It keeps me focused on gratitude and it also inspires me to want to do more for people. Reading the stories of these women just touches my heart and the book clearly portrays the emotion, the passion, and the love of these women. I have cried, I have smiled, and I have empathized with the women. And the authors have done such a great job with promoting awareness of oppression of women across the globe. My friend told me about this book a year ago and I finally took the time over the Thanksgiving break this year to read it. A MUST READ: you will be inspired and humbled! :)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book changed my life. Every girl needs to read this book ...
Vermillion_Bear More than 1 year ago
I was very interested in reading this book just from the reviews I read about it, but there was a little disappointment in it. The authors talk about gray areas in the problems they encountered and I encountered my own in reading this book. I have read both authors' previous work, but some of the recommendations in this book are realistic and some are hopeful. I don't believe foreign countries should not allow doctors to get degrees, just to make sure they don't emigrate. I doubt the authors would be saying this if a doctor in rural Iran was being persecuted and wanted to leave. Granted their work is very valuable to the country, but life decisions should be their own. You can't force people to work in certain conditions and expect them to be above human needs or to not become desensitized to things they see everyday. I do think the situation at the hospital with Dr. Pipi and the nurses was disturbing and disgusting, but like the authors I can understand that it is human circumstances and behaviors that contribute to these problems. I do agree that maybe training midwives and others to do the same duties a doctor would perform would be more practical. I doubt any real physician who cares for their patient would be threatened by their patient receiving accurate care before they are taken to a hospital, its better than having a woman lay in labor for days only for it to end in the death of both mother and child. Also, the idea that female travelers may have an easier time connecting with people is true, but I don't think the authors should gloss over real dangers female travelers face. Any female traveler to India is very familiar with Eve teasing and the rapes that go on there. Believe me when I say the local men are not intimidated by foreign women of any race. While there were some instances when I was reading where I just didn't agree with some of the authors' recommendations, I do think the wider message of this book should not be lost. It is a call to help volunteer at the many organizations talked about in the book. I am definitely interested in the fistula surgeries and hospitals dedicated to this cause. I even remember seeing a NOVA special on the hospital in Ethiopia and the care taken to give these women their dignity back and to overcome not only the physical, but emotional wounds inflected upon them by society. Cultural and societal attitudes must be changed in order for things to progress around the world and better the lives of women and girls. It was also great to see that there were grassroots efforts in combination with government agencies that came together to help better the lives of women and girls around the world. I do think there is more to be done and I will try to do my part.
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The book Half The Sky is written by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Half The Sky gives you an insight on what women truly go through in other countries from poverty, rape and success. In this novel it tells many heartbreaking stories of women and young children trying to survive in their small villages. Some of these women have completely changed their lives by utilizing the help that has been given to them. The statistics in this novel are mind blowing such as this one, “ 12.3 million people engaged in forced labor of all kinds, not just sexual servitude”(Kristof and WuDunn 9). Their writing style is very researched based and gives you a lot of sad true stories but give you happy uplifting stories also. If you are planning on reading this book be prepared for intense descriptions and an emotional journey. The reader needs to be mature and prepared to face the harsh reality of what happens to women in different countries throughout the entire world. I really enjoyed the way the authors give true stories in positive ways that could help encourage people to acknowledge the worlds need for help in different opportunities whether it be donating money or volunteering your time. Overall I believe it was a very good book with great detail on the lives of women around the world. To read this book I would suggest being out of high school, It is very intense and you must be very mature to understand the severity of the situations. I strongly suggest this book to anyone mature looking to read very inspiring stories. The novel has such an impact that will make you want to give everything you possibly can to those in need.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book brings out the many ways that women are still considered second class citizens in this world, and it shows ways we can help to change that.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Half The Sky is definitly, as my friend said, not for the faint of heart. Grotesque injustice and unfathomable violence aside, I thought that since my Christian friend recommended it as resource material for human trafficking, that this book was appraoching the issue from a Christian perspective. The authors are clearly not. We DO need to be aware of the condition of women in other countries, which this book clearly shows, but without the Gospel, without the fact that God sent His only Son to die for men AND women, then a woman's value is only limited to what a woman can DO (for the economy, for others, for her family). While Jesus was here in the flesh, He gave women a status boost by talking to them, healing them, teaching them; not because they DID something phenominal to merit it but because women are living, breathing, human beings, also made in the image of God (Genisis 1:27). That in itself should be enough to give women value. Several times, the authors took Bible passages out of context to "prove" that the Bible promotes cruelty and injustice to women. Careful study, within the context of the book, as well as the Bible in it's entirety, will reveal that God doesn't hate women, doesn't promote cruelty and that the Bible is not to blame for backwards thinking. I left this book feeling very depressed and discouraged. For encouragement through horrible trauma and discrimination, I would rather recommend "Trapped In Hitler's Hell" or "Captive In Iran". Read those if you REALLY want to be inspired!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This could have been a very depressing book, but instead it was inspiring and changed my life. I love how the authors present real problems in the world and give the true picture. There are no quick easy answers and they help you understand why, yet they show you that each and every person can make a difference in the world.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is phenomenal and leaves readers wanting to help, wanting to change this international problem. The authors are up front and honest, showing the reader the truths of the situation through stories of victims. Read this book - it will change the way you view several women's issues.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am reading this one a few pages at a time. I know it is true; I am just having a hard time digesting so much misery and have to take it slowly. I have been told that in the end it has positive outcomes; I hope so.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
McSusan More than 1 year ago
Understand this is non-fiction and much went into pulling this book together. The content has a good heart and means well above all. Although the info sources are documented at the end, there are many sweeping statements made that caused me to question the sources. I really believe the authors tried to cover too much ground in too many different places in the world for the reader to connect personally with a story...connect so strongly to a story that it moves them to take action, as the book wishes everyone would do since it cites several ways to do that. The connection just wasn't there for me. Have read better but obviously being a Best Seller, many do not agree with me. One thing I did take away is that Westerners often try to help in a Westerner way, the way we think. The whole world doesn't think the way we do. It often was not the right approach nor the right help. Deeply rooted culture and many other things are huge considerations. While I don't believe any human should o undue harm to another, the whole world doesn't want to be just like us.