Book – Half the Sky (and Kiva)


Once again I read a book from Emma Watson’s Our Shared Shelf book club focusing on feminist issues, and the book for September and October is “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.  In it, this married, Pulitzer-prize-winning journalist couple explores the ways in which women are oppressed worldwide.  This includes trafficking, lack of education for girls, fistulas, and maternal mortality.  It’s a hard book to read because a lot of it is just horrible stories of women and girls who have endured things that no one should ever have to go through.  There are uplifting stories too, where girls escape the cycle of trafficking, poverty, and disease.  There are also stories of charitable organizations that are making a difference, but even those things do not make this book any easier.  BUT what this book does do correctly is end things with a list.  We well-to-do Westerners like a list of ways to help, and I think the authors know that, as Kristof has written in other places about the similar problems of getting people involved in combating these atrocities against women.

That action list at the end of the book is broken down into two parts.  The first is things that our country can do:

  1. Support the education of girls, and closing the gender gap in education.
  2. Sponsor a worldwide program to iodize salt
  3. Support a 12 year program to eradicate obstetric fistulas (I think this is what it is – I transcribed “program” as “Princeton”, which can’t be right – damn you autocorrect!)

But the authors tell us that in opposing poverty and oppression, you must understand it too.  So here are the things that we individuals can do right now:

  1. Support programs that support women, like Global Giving, Kiva, or Giveology.
  2. Sponsor a girl through Plan International, Women for Women International, World Vision, or American Jewish World Service.
  3. Sign up for email updates through Womens E-News or World Pulse.
  4. Write a letter to the President or Congress urging their support of maternal health issues or girls education, or thanking them for their support of those issues.

In the time since the book has been published, the authors have also started an organization called “Half the Sky Movement”, which is igniting engagement and activism across many platforms to support women and girls across the world.  They have a documentary that aired on PBS (must go find and watch!), games on both Facebook and mobile, web and education.

So what did I do after reading the book?  Well, I’ve known about Kiva for a long time.  My college roommate and her husband had continuous Kiva loans to women around the world, and had printed out their profiles and posted them on their fridge as a reminder of the people they were supporting.  And since it was on that list as well, I went in and decided that since I am a woman of my own means, that I too could support other women around the world.  Since the minimum loan is $25, I decided I could put out $100 of my money, and find four women in four countries who were trying to make their lives better.

Of that $100, I found four women (or women’s groups) working on their business or agriculture in four different countries: Ecuador, Kenya, Lebanon and Vietnam.  In the 6 weeks since I made my first loan, I’ve had more than $9 already paid back.  When that number gets up to the loan minimum of $25 again, I’ll go back and reinvest in another woman working to improve her life.  It’s very exciting to get an email saying part of the loan has been repaid, because it means that I’m one step closer to helping change someone else’s life in a very small way.

Very rarely will a book stick with you and make you go out and do something.  But Half the Sky was terrific in that regard.  It got me thinking more broadly, with more specific examples of what is wrong in the world.  Not only that, but it gave me a means to do something.  Knowledge without action is impotent, so by inspiring so many to go out and make a difference, the Half the Sky movement is proving that they will have staying power, and perhaps will be the ones to help change the world.

Details: Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, first published 2008 by Knopf. / Join me on Kiva!

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