By Sara Gingold
In July, Read & Rights will be reading Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. The event is free and will be held on Tuesday the 10th July from 7pm at LOOP. Tweet as you read by following @ReadandRights and using #HalftheSky. You can also follow to Half the Sky movement at @Half.
Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn is a passionate attempt to mobilise the global citizenry in the fight against gender inequality. It is informative, inspiring and, at times, incredibly distressing. Overall, it explores what the authors consider to be the greatest challenge of the 21st century; the exploitation and abuse of women all over the world.
Beaten, raped and abused, she escaped with other young girls and sought refuge with the Malaysian police.
The sections on trafficking and gender inequality are particularly agonising to read. The numbers and statistics are horrifying, yet it is the stories of individuals that are particularly heart wrenching. The introduction tells the story of Srey Rath, a young Cambodian girl who was 15 when she travelled to Thailand to work as a dish washer and ended up in a Malaysian brothel. Beaten, raped and abused, she escaped with other young girls and sought refuge with the Malaysian police. Under Malaysia’s tough immigration laws, she spent a year in jail before being sold to another brothel by a police officer.
The problem is systematic, so therefore the solution must be as well.
Yet in the true character of the book, the story ends on a note of hope. With the help of a charity, Rath managed to set up a successful small business, and is an example of the great results girls in the developing world can achieve when presented with the opportunity. Yet it is clear that the problems discussed in Half the Sky are complex and do not have easy solutions. Sometimes girls return to the brothels and sometimes women perpetrate gender violence. The problem is systematic, so therefore the solution must be as well.
Personally, I found the section on maternal health to be the most shocking. I consider myself to be fairly knowledgeable about gender issues, yet maternal health has always been somewhat in the background. Reading about fistula sufferers was particularly awakening; it is especially tragic that this problem has a remarkably simple solution for which many lack only the resources.
The book has received a mixed response. For many it has been a source of inspiration, while some critics have been less positive. Prominent commentator Germaine Greer has criticised its focus on misogyny in the developing world whilst ignoring that similar problems exist in the West. Although the existence of misogyny in the West is indeed important, this book should be permitted to take a particular focus on such as widespread issue. It is important we do not become so focused on our own problems that we forget about the distressing situations faced by women and girls in impoverished communities globally. Valid criticism is raised by Harvard reviewer Rohini Pande, who questions whether it is right for us, living comfortably in the West, to encourage women overseas to risk their lives in the search for gender equality.
Despite the suffering we are exposed to, throughout every page the authors encourage us to cling to hope.
Furthermore, it is questionable whether the promotion of social activism is the responsibility of a novel. Yet when dealing with the lives of the world’s most vulnerable, the consequences of inaction are fatal. This case is made fairly strongly in Half the Sky; the horrors women and girls face across the world are terrifying and sit uncomfortably with the values of the 21st century. We should be shocked as we read, we should be outraged, but Kristof and WuDunn suggest we should do something more. Despite the suffering we are exposed to, throughout every page the authors encourage us to cling to hope. Millions of girls worldwide depend on us maintaining this hope, because it is when we stop fighting for them to have a better life that they lose the potential for it. This book might be controversial, but it starts a conversation that is long overdue.
Whatever conclusions you reach about the many controversies that surround and exist within this book, it is definitely well worth the read. The authors have created a well researched yet readable exploration of one of the greatest challenges of our lifetime.