05 September 2012

Half the Sky

A couple of years ago, I read Half theSky:  Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn, a Pulitzer-prize-winning husband and wife team of American journalists.  The book is not an easy read.  Each chapter details, with remarkable research, the major issues preventing women from becoming more productive, more equal to men, and more educated, specifically in Africa and Asia.  The reasons, as you can imagine, aren’t pretty.  If you read the book, and I hope you will, you’ll learn that there are more slaves on earth right now than there were in the 1780’s, during the height of the African slave trade.  And that the majority of current slaves - some estimate the lowest projection at more than 12 million - are female prisoners of sex traffickers, and an appalling number are under the age of eighteen.  You’ll learn the horrifying effects of genital mutilation,  rape as a weapon of war, and preventable reasons for high maternal mortality.  And if you don’t know what obstetric fistula is, you’ll wish you hadn’t learned.

But in spite of the sickening, heartbreaking information, you’ll also learn that it’s actually pretty easy to make a difference in the lives of these women.  There are courageous women and men leading organizations that truly improve the quality of life, and in doing so, nurture progress and hope.  There’s more about how you can get involved at the Half the Sky website.

One really exciting development, one that might get even yours truly to watch TV, is the airing of a documentary of the same title, on PBS on October 1st and 2nd.  In this four-hour film, the impact of the book on topics like improving health care, education, and economic opportunity in ten countries are explored.  Here you can see the preview for this film.

It can be disheartening to be made uncomfortable even (especially?) in your own living room, but what change might ever be effected without first having to experience discomfort?  And any discomfort we might endure pales dramatically when compared to the real struggles of females born on other continents.

So what can you do?  First, I hope you’ll tune in and share this book and film with others - and then I hope you’ll do something, no matter how small. 

The title, Half the Sky, comes from a Chinese proverb:  Women hold up half the sky.  Many of us have already envisioned the devastating outcomes of half of our world’s population being oppressed.  But what future could you visualize if each of us were given opportunities that allowed each of us to work to reach our full potential?  What if strong families led by strong women were the norm in the developing world, rather than the exception?  How much higher could each of us rise, lifting our own piece in the patchwork of sky that connects us all, one to another, hope ballooning within us all?

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