Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn

Note: Last fall I watched a documentary called Half the Sky, based on a book with the same title, authored by the husband-and-wife Pulitzer prize winners (first married couple to do so) Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.  The documentary highlighted some of the women in the book, but I think you need to read the entire book to feel the full impact of its message. (For example, the topic of female genital mutilation was one of the highlights and learning about that from interviewing the women themselves made a strong impact on me.) The book had been sitting on my shelf, one I purchased inexpensively from Borders Book Store before they closed for good. It had been languishing on my Books to Read/Review shelf and after the documentary I read it from cover to cover, but not easily. I saved the review for  March’s Women’s History Month and today, International Women’s Day.


The title of the book, Half the Sky, is taken from a Chinese proverb, “Women make up half the sky,” but the subtitle contains the main message of its contents: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. Because I want to focus on ways you can help, I just want to list some of the chapter titles and an example, so you can see how powerful this book really is.

Chapter One: Emancipating Twenty-First-Century Slaves: Fighting Slavery from Seattle
Chapter Four: Rule by Rape
Chapter Six: Maternal Mortality at One Woman a Minute
Chapter Seven: Why Do Women Die in Childbirth?
Chapter Eleven: Microcredit: The Financial Revolution
Chapter Fourteen (final chapter): What You Can Do: Four Steps You Can Take in the Next Ten Minutes
Appendix: Organizations Supporting Women

The chapters are not glutted with facts and statistics, although they are important to the chapter. Rather, the authors take you inside a hospital or a house of prostitution, interviewing oppressed women to make their stories known. Thus, the book is not easy to read. For example, the whole topic of fistulas, happening most in poorer countries where maternity care is lacking, is difficult reading. The Fistula Foundation (www.fistulafoundation.org) presents this definition:

A fistula is a hole. An obstetric fistula of the kind that occurs in many developing countries is a hole between a woman’s birth passage and one or more of her internal organs. This hole develops over many days of obstructed labor, when the pressure of the baby’s head against the mother’s pelvis cuts off blood supply to delicate tissues in the region. The dead tissue falls away and the woman is left with a hole between her vagina and her bladder (called a vesicovaginal fistula or VVF) and sometimes between her vagina and rectum (rectovaginal fistula, RVF). This hole results in permanent incontinence of urine and/or feces. A majority of women who develop fistulas are abandoned by their husbands and ostracized by their communities because of their inability to have children and their foul smell. Traumatic fistula is the result of sexual violence. 

The injury can occur through rape or women being butchered from the inside with bayonets, wood or even rifles  The aim is to destroy the women and the community within which the sufferer lives. Once committed, the survivor, her husband, children and extended family become traumatized and humiliated. The Panzi Hospital in Congo is a pioneer in treating victims of traumatic fistula.

Below are 7 steps you can take that are in the book and a couple other resources that I have found to be related to this. The book also has its own website: www.halftheskymovement.org.

  1. www.global giving.org or www.kiva.org. These organizations lead you directly to a person in need overseas. Another organization started by Univ. of PA students (in my backyard),  www.givology.com helps children in developing countries pay for primary school, which may help her stay away from a life of poverty and/or prostitution.
  2. Sponsor a woman through Plan International, Women for Women International, World Vision, or American Jewish World Service. (I like the idea of a group of women sponsoring a woman in need. Anyone interested can email me: menupause.info@gmail.com.)
  3. Sign up for e-mail updates on www.womensenws.org or www.worldpulse.com. (Report on abuses of women and actions to take.)
  4. Join www.can.care.org, which will help you speak up and speak out to policy makers as a citizen advocate, essential to creating change.  Below are my additions:
  5. Eve Ensler’s (of Vagina Monologue fame)  message started on Valentine’s Day 15 years ago to stop violence of any kind against women.  She called it V-Day and  www.onebillionrising.org. is an outgrowth  of the monologues, which I saw her perform in NYC in 2001.
  6. Check out www.mavuunogreenhouses.com. Wanjiru Kamau, whom I met when we both lived in State  College, went back to Kenya to make her country a better place. Here is their mission statement from the website: We believe at Mavuuno Greenhouses inc. that greenhouse farming is an effective way of fighting hunger and extreme poverty in Africa. With a Mavuuno Greenhouse you can have a bumper harvest all year round. Mavuuno Greenhouses Inc. strives to make each greenhouse affordable, durable and expandable. Simultaneously we promote and support organic farming and a green lifestyle. (As a nutrition educator, I like what Mama Kamau is doing.)
  7. When I was in California @ Thanksgiving, I saw a group of high school girls with a booth to raise money to provide a school to a small village in Nepal. The organization is called Build On (www.webuildon.org/albany-high-school/) and has programs in 100 high schools across the U.S. Its aim is to break the cycle of poverty, illiteracy and low expectations through service and education all through Africa, Asia and Central America. They break ground on a new school every 5 days. (While this is not a women only project, I felt it is important enough to include.)

NOTE: There are so many good organizations, both here and abroad, that I cannot list. This will hopefully get you started on taking action to make the world a better place for men, children, and especially women, for they do hold up half the sky.








11 thoughts on “Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn

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  4. I plan to post some info about women’s groups for International Women’s Day, which is March 8th, so I plan to post by the end of next week. The article comes as a result of my reading Half the Sky. Thanx! ellensue

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