Synopses & Reviews
From two of our most fiercely moral voices, a passionate call to arms against our era's most pervasive human rights violation: the oppression of women and girls in the developing world.
With Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn as our guides, we undertake an odyssey through Africa and Asia to meet the extraordinary women struggling there, among them a Cambodian teenager sold into sex slavery and an Ethiopian woman who suffered devastating injuries in childbirth. Drawing on the breadth of their combined reporting experience, Kristof and WuDunn depict our world with anger, sadness, clarity, and, ultimately, hope.
They show how a little help can transform the lives of women and girls abroad. That Cambodian girl eventually escaped from her brothel and, with assistance from an aid group, built a thriving retail business that supports her family. The Ethiopian woman had her injuries repaired and in time became a surgeon. A Zimbabwean mother of five, counseled to return to school, earned her doctorate and became an expert on AIDS.
Through these stories, Kristof and WuDunn help us see that the key to economic progress lies in unleashing women's potential. They make clear how so many people have helped to do just that, and how we can each do our part. Throughout much of the world, the greatest unexploited economic resource is the female half of the population. Countries such as China have prospered precisely because they emancipated women and brought them into the formal economy. Unleashing that process globally is not only the right thing to do; it's also the best strategy for fighting poverty.
Deeply felt, pragmatic, and inspirational, Half the Sky is essential reading for every global citizen.
"New York Times columnist Kristof and his wife, WuDunn, a former Times reporter, make a brilliantly argued case for investing in the health and autonomy of women worldwide. '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,' they write, detailing the rampant 'gendercide' in the developing world, particularly in India and Pakistan. Far from merely making moral appeals, the authors posit that it is impossible for countries to climb out of poverty if only a fraction of women (9% in Pakistan, for example) participate in the labor force. China's meteoric rise was due to women's economic empowerment: 80% of the factory workers in the Guangdong province are female; six of the 10 richest self-made women in the world are Chinese. The authors reveal local women to be the most effective change agents: 'The best role for Americans... isn't holding the microphone at the front of the rally but writing the checks,' an assertion they contradict in their unnecessary profiles of American volunteers finding 'compensations for the lack of shopping malls and Netflix movies' in making a difference abroad. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[T]his gripping call to conscience...tackles atrocities and indignities.... But the poignant portraits of survivors humanize the issues, divulging facts that moral outrage might otherwise eclipse." New York Times
"Kristof and WuDunn forcefully contend that improving the lot of girls and women benefits everyone.... Intelligent, revealing and important." Kirkus Reviews
"Kristof and WuDunn reinforce the truth behind the terrible statistics with passionately reported personal stories...including a final chapter suggesting how readers can help." Booklist
"Superb....As Rachel Carson's Silent Spring once catalyzed us to save our birds and better steward our earth, Half the Sky stands to become a classic, spurring us to spare impoverished women these terrors, and elevate them to turn around the future of their nations." Susan Ager, Cleveland Plain Dealer
"This book isn't a sermon....These stories are electrifying and have the effect of breaking down this enormous problem into segments the reader can focus on. Suddenly, these horrendous problems begin to seem solvable....Again, this book is not a sermon about victims. Its range is wide, and sometimes it's even funny....Half the Sky is a call to arms, a call for help, a call for contributions, but also a call for volunteers. It asks us to open our eyes to this enormous humanitarian issue. It does so with exquisitely crafted prose and sensationally interesting material...I really do think this is one of the most important books I have ever reviewed." Carolyn See, The Washington Post
Two Pulitzer Prize winners issue a call to arms against our era's most pervasive human rights violation: the oppression of women in the developing world.
A call to arms against our era's most pervasive human rights violation: the oppression of women in the developing world.
With Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn as our guides, we undertake a journey through Africa and Asia to meet an extraordinary array of women struggling under profoundly dire circumstances: a Cambodian teenager sold into sex slavery; an Ethiopian woman left for dead after a difficult birth; an Afghan wife beaten ruthlessly by her husband and mother-in-law. But we meet, as well, those who have triumphed — a formerly illiterate fistula patient who became a surgeon in Addis Ababa; an Indian woman who saved herself and her children from prostitution — and those who make it their work to provide hope and help to other women: the victim of gang rape who galvanized the international community and created schools in rural Pakistan; the former Peace Corps volunteer who founded an organization that educates and campaigns for women's rights in Senegal. Through their stories, Kristof and WuDunn help us see that the key to progress lies in unleashing women's potential — and they make clear how each of us can help make that happen.
Fiercely moral, pragmatic, and inspirational, Half the Sky is essential reading for every global citizen.
About the Author
Sheryl WuDunn is married to Nicholas D. Kristof and they were the first married couple to win a Pulitzer Prize for journalism. As longtime foreign correspondents for the New York Times, they won the prize for their coverage of the Tiananmen student movement in China and its bloody suppression. Mr. Kristof won a second Pulitzer for his op-ed columns in the Times. He has also served as bureau chief in Hong Kong, Beijing, and Tokyo, and as associate managing editor. At the Times, Ms. WuDunn worked as a business editor and as a foreign correspondent in Tokyo and Beijing. They live near New York City.
Reading Group Guide
The questions and topics that follow are intended to enhance your group’s conversation about Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s enlightening and inspiring book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.
1. “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 battles of the twentieth century” (p. xvii). Why is the dire state of women in impoverished cultures, as set out by the authors in the introduction, also a great opportunity for them?
2. “The modern global slave trade is larger in absolute terms than the Atlantic slave trade in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries” (p. 11). Given the scale of the problem, what do Kristof and WuDunn suggest as reasonable efforts towards ending human trafficking?
3. What do the stories about Srey Momm and Srey Neth indicate about the complexities of the trafficking problem in places like Thailand and Cambodia? Why do Kristof and WuDunn say “it’s most productive to focus efforts on prevention and putting brothels out of business” (p. 45)?
4. What difficulties do “the new abolitionists,” like Sunitha Krishnan and Abbas Be, face in trying to shut down the brothel trade? How does Sunitha’s story highlight the kind of bravery required to save women from enslavement in brothels?
5. The judge in the rape and kidnapping case of Woineshet, in Ethiopia, disapproved of the fact that this young girl was insisting on prosecuting her rapist: “He wants to marry you. Why are you refusing?” (p. 65). How is this story emblematic of the much larger problem of “tradition” in countries like Ethiopia?
6. Kristof and WuDunn argue that “universities should make it a requirement that all graduates spend at least some time in the developing world” (p. 88), and that “time spent in Congo and Cambodia might not be as pleasant as in Paris, but it will be life-changing” (p. 89). Do you agree that young Americans should be required to widen their knowledge by direct experience? How might such a requirement change the lives of young Americans, and their view of poverty and privilege?
7. How does the story of Prudence Lemokouno illustrate the dangers of pregnancy and delivery in the developing world (pp. 109–13)? Does it seem an obvious and desirable principle that reproductive health should be considered an international human rights issue, as argued by Dr. Allan Rosenfield (p. 122)? What does the example of Sri Lanka prove about the possibilities of reducing women’s mortality rates in childbirth?
8. Muslim nations are among those in which women are most severely disadvantaged; so the authors directly address the question of whether Islam is misogynistic (p. 150). What do they conclude? What are the best ways to address the frustrations of women like Ellaha, who feel trapped in conservative Muslim cultures where women are at the mercy of their male relatives (pp. 156–57)? Is religion part of the reason for the oppression of women? Is it part of the solution?
9. The authors present a great deal of information about the troubles surrounding the education of girls. Discuss the thorny problems raised in chapter ten, “Investing in Education” (pp. 167–78), and the ways that Ann Cotton has succeeded in addressing many of them with her Camfed project in Zimbabwe (pp. 179–83).
10. Chapter Eleven, “Microcredit: The Financial Revolution,” focuses on the positive changes that are possible when you lend women money to start businesses, or when women have control of the family purse. Is it surprising to learn that when men control family spending, more is spent on beer and prostitutes, and when women are in control more is spent on food and education (pp. 192–93)? Does India’s law, assuring that one third of village leaders will be women, suggest that putting more women in positions of political power will make the world a better place for children?
11. Thomas Clarkson and William Wilberforce worked tirelessly to expose the truths about the cruel and gruesome conditions endured by the slaves in the British slave trade (pp. 235–36). Their work is a model for the political effectiveness of bringing atrocities to the forefront of the public mind and conscience. What realities were brought to light for you, as you read this book? What details or stories would you consider most provocative, disturbing, or inspiring for middle-class readers?
12. With the stories they recount in this book, Kristof and WuDunn hope to convince readers to help bring about changes that are desperately needed in the developing world. How effective would you predict Half the Sky will be in its effort to create new activists, donors, and volunteers for the international women’s movement (p. 237)?
13. Kristof and WuDunn make three specific recommendations for immediate action: “A $10 billion effort over five years to educate girls,” focusing on Africa but also encouraging Afghanistan and Pakistan to do better; a drive to iodize salt in poor countries, to improve I.Q. points lost to iodine deficiency in utero; and a twelve-year, $1.6 billion campaign to eradicate obstetric fistula and to reduce maternal mortality (pp. 246–47). What do you think about this vision? What has reading the book done to your sense of what needs to be done and what kinds of action might be most effective? Has reading the book inspired you to develop an action strategy or a personal plan to join the movement to address some of these issues? What kinds of actions personally do you think would be the most effective?
14. Jonathan Haidt has written in The Happiness Hypothesis that “a connection to something larger” can greatly affect our feelings of happiness. As Kristof and WuDunn suggest, “we are neurologically constructed so that we gain huge personal dividends from altruism” (p. 250). Do you feel this to be true? Do you feel, upon finishing this book, that you can have a direct impact on helping to turn women in impoverished parts of the world “into full-fledged human beings” (p. 251)?