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Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide Paperback – June 1, 2010
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I think this has to be the most important book - not just for women's rights globally but for human rights - published in my memory.
Kristof and WuDunn weave together a most compelling story of how culture and customs historically suppress women. They tackle many tough, taboo topics - for example honor killing. But more importantly, they champion the stories of heroic women worldwide wholly committed to changing the many evils of the status quo.
What is more, they posit a kind of general framework theory that the really important advances in human rights that are going to be made in the near future are going to be brought about by these entrepreneurial pioneering women. In essence, that the backbone of the human rights movement and of real change across all societies is going to be a direct function of brave women who give themselves permission to say "NO" to thousands of years of (to most Westerners) unimaginable oppressive cultural customs and who take it upon themselves to lead to a new way. Once you have read the book, it is very hard, if not impossible, to disagree with Kristof and WuDunn's general theme. To wit, the brave women of Iran who took to the streets to protest the results of the recent election.
Among many other "super" women, HALF THE SKY spotlights the following inspirational Ashoka Fellows:
· Sunitha Krishnan (India), founder of Prajwala, a citizen sector organization in Hyderabad, India, fighting forced prostitution and sex trafficking, rescuing women and children from sexual exploitation, incestual rape, sexual torture, and abuse in prostitution. Her organization helps former prostitutes learn vocational skills so they can move into new careers. "Prajwala" means "an eternal flame".
· Sakena Yacoobi (Afghanistan), founder of the Afghan Institute of Learning, a citizen sector organization providing teacher training to Afghan women, educating and fostering education for girls and boys, and providing health education to women and children. Her organization also runs fixed and mobile health clinics that provide family planning services. Sakena holds the distinction of having been Ashoka's first Afghan Fellow. Educating women and girls was banned under the Taliban and is controversial under Islamic law.
· Roshaneh Zafar (Pakistan), founder of Pakistani microfinance lender, Kashf. A former World Bank employee, she was inspired after a chance meeting with Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank. "Kashf" means "miracle" and Kashf is indeed fostering a miracle by leveraging microfinance to women to transform the role of women in Pakistani society and bringing about a poverty-free world. To date, Kashf supports 305,038 families in Pakistan, has disbursed $202 million, and has 52 branches nationwide.
I am not alone in my enthusiasm for this book! Last Tuesday, September 15, 2009 from 1:15 pm to 2:45 pm, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime ("UNODC") will be hosting a panel discussion and booksigning with Mr. Kristof and Ms. WuDunn in the UN Trusteeship Council Chamber at UN Headquarters. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will deliver opening remarks. Every seat (550) in the Trusteeship Council Chamber was filled.
The buzz out there is that many people are coming and that everyone is very excited about the publication and significance of this extraordinary milestone work.
Five out of five stars. An absolute must read for anyone who cares about women's rights or human rights. A genuine eye popper that moves so fast, tackles so much that has hitherto been taboo and unmovable, and interweaves the unbelievably positive stories of the very heroic women already leading and creating change in a tapestry that is glimpse of a brave and very different, humanitarian new world.
Once you pick this book up, you will not be able to put it down. And once you have read it, you will be moved to help bring about tomorrow. Absolute proof that the glass (or the sky) is half full. We just have to give ourselves permission to make change. Or as Gandhi said, "we must be the change we wish to see."
BUY IT. READ IT. PASS IT AROUND.
Despite the heroic effort to bring this worldwide tragedy to light, Kristof and WuDunn have done a serious disservice to journalism, especially of the investigative nature. While their attempts to draw attention to the oppression of women through statistics as well as grueling and gruesome stories deserve an applause, they consistently pushed ideas without revealing the whole truth. This is lying through omission.
In the section on prostitution, Kristof and WuDunn routinely would dismiss Western prostitution as "voluntary" and would flippantly dismiss the idea that women of America and other Western cultures can be enslaved. Page 24 of this book really revealed how disgustingly inattentive Kristof and WuDunn have been to sexual slavery in the West. "Moreover, Western men usually go with girls who are more or less voluntary prostitutes..." Combine this with page 9, "We certainly don't think of prostitutes as slaves, forced to do what they do, for most prostitutes in America, China, and Japan aren't truly enslaved." Are they out of their minds? Either they have turned a blind eye to the nature of prostitution as a whole or they are purposefully leaving it out in order to make the culture of prostitution of more developing countries appear more bleak. Let us not forget the average of prostitutes in America is roughly 15-years-old. That doesn't sound very voluntary to me. I highly suggest they take a look at some of Rachel Lloyd's work and maybe they'll stop spewing such ignorance.
When exploring the devastation AIDS has wrecked on our planet, Kristof and WuDunn do an excellent job of illustrating how terrible the sickness has been, especially in the developing world. Unfortunately, one of their "fixes" to the problem is that "governments should encourage male circumcision, which reduces HIV risk significantly." No, it doesn't. Those studies are outdated and considered inconclusive, just as the same studies which link female circumcision to reduced HIV contraction. It's amazing how quickly they cry out against female genital mutilation of children and then call for the same to be done to little baby boys. If they mean adult-only circumcision, I would be more likely to agree since, at that point, it is the choice of the person who actually owns those genitals. But otherwise, this passage reeks of hypocrisy.
Lastly, in their defense of Islam not being misogynistic, they lay large amounts of praise onto Aisha, Muhammad's "favorite" wife. Was it deliberate that they completely neglected to mention that she was married at six and raped at nine? Yes, raped. Because a nine-year-old does not and cannot consent to sexual intercourse. No, they left this out because it would have hurt the point they were making about how female-friendly the origins of Islam were.
The purpose of the book, to educate and move to action, is worthy of praise. However, the direct distaste for the truth is abhorrent and it's disappointed that anything that may have undermined the authors' ideas was completely omitted. They have shamed the practice of journalism.