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“Women Hold Up Half the Sky” (a Chinese Proverb)

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.

When I read this line aloud to my husband, he looked up and said, “What? Say that again.”

When I repeated it, he said, “That doesn’t sound possible.”  I know, I told him. That’s why I read it to you.

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sharyl WuDunn, a married couple and winners of the Pulitzer Prize, is full of sentences you have to stop and reread, because you’re pretty sure you misread them. That can’t be true, can it?

In places where girls have a deeply unequal status, they vanish….About 107 million females are missing from the globe today.

More girls are killed in this routine “gendercide” in any one decade than people were slaughtered in all the genocides of the twentieth century.

Half the Sky is not an easy book to read. It’s filled with stories of unspeakable suffering — sexual slavery, gang rape, and mutilation like genital circumscision and blinding, for example. The authors agonizingly describe maternal injuries such as fistulas that kill and maim many thousands of women around the world.

Fortunately, it’s filled with hope as well. Allan Rosenfield, a Columbia University doctor, founded AMDD (Averting Maternal Death and Disability), which now saves lives in fifty poor countries. Edna Adan, whose genitals were forcibly cut from her when she was eight years old, became her country’s first trained nurse-midwife and has built a maternity hospital in Somaliland.

These stories inspire. They inspired my book group to donate money every month to one of the many groups helping women around the world, described and vetted by the book’s authors. Our first effort was to buy a bicycle through World Bike Relief for a girl trying to get to school. Next, we’re going to sponsor a woman entrepeneur through Women for Women International.

We thought we knew how bad things were for women around the world, but we learned from Half the Sky that we really had no idea. It’s hard to read this book and not do something, however small. I’ll let you know how our efforts progress.

In the meantime, read Half the Sky for yourself.

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