Books that seek to highlight injustice – or in this case many injustices – are naturally difficult to read. Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn has been on my ‘books I want to read’ list for many years. Once I began reading I was confronted by all the stories I knew I had been purposefully avoiding. Page after page details the discrimination and abuse that millions of women around the world face on a daily basis, interspersed with recollections of success stories. For the most part I was crying, either out of despair at the state of the world or relief that there are people who care enough to do something about it.
Husband and wife authors, Kristof and WuDunn, recount interactions with the many women they have met around the world during their careers as journalists. The stories are about prostitutes, women who are repeatedly abused by their husbands, pregnancies that go horribly wrong and numerous other heart-breaking, sometimes unbelievable, tales of brutality towards women.
By page 93 I am losing all hope in the world; by page 98 I am sobbing. Statistics such as ‘the equivalent of five jumbo jets worth of women die in labour each day, but the issue is almost never covered’ leave me feeling helpless and angry at the world. The outrage at the idea of women dying so needlessly when we have the resources to stop it makes me want to throw the book across the room. The contrast of the cost to counter maternal mortality versus how much is spent in the US on pet food ($9bn/yr vs $40bn/year) horrifies me but then I feel ashamed when I consider how much I spend on my own dog.
Then there are stories of women, like Edna, who dedicate their lives to building clinics where pregnant women or fistula patients can come and be treated. There are those who are fighting for women and girls to be properly educated so that they know their rights and can become respected members of their families.There is hope.
The authors question our indifference towards these issues: ‘Someday people will look back and wonder: What were they thinking?’ I have to agree. After reading this book it is no longer okay for me to ignore the plight of millions of women around the world. For starters, I can find out more about the issues at globalcitizen.org and take small actions that will make a big difference to women’s lives. After all, ‘Women hold up half the sky’ (Chinese proverb).
Have you read the book? What did you think? Leave your comments below.