Travel Log 11: “Holding up Half the Sky” By: Erin Foley, Paris, France

The overall message of Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide is to provide viewers with an inside look into the atrocities and inequities that many women in third world countries face today. From sex trafficking and slavery to genital mutilation and rape, these women, but most often young girls, are at the receiving end of some of the most inconceivable and heinous acts of oppression. As a way to draw media attention to these pressing matters, co-authors and husband-wife team Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn brought six actresses to six different countries where these issues are most prevalent. The goal of this book and later documentary is not to offer a philanthropic outlet to benefit the public appearances of each actress or provide publicity for WuDunn and Kristof’s book, but instead to inform the public of the goings on in countries to which we rarely give thought. Returning to the notion of Universal Human Rights, each person born unto this earth is entitled to certain freedoms. If you are a member of a first world country where these rights are inherently respected within your society, you hardly give a thought to an alternate universe where the opposite is true. If, however, you have the misfortune of being brought up in a third world country where violations of these rights happen often, perhaps you are unaware that such a document even exists, let alone that you are entitled to the same rights as your first-world counterparts.

After watching one of the girl’s stories, I was left feeling inspired instead of hopeless, like I felt with the others. Actress Gabrielle Union, equipped with her own tumultuous past, traveled to Vietnam to visit a young girl who travels thirty-five miles a day by bicycle just to attend school. In order to support the family, her father forced her to get a job selling lottery tickets at the local market. If she did not sell a certain amount, he would beat her as punishment. Unfortunately, there was also speculation that because she shared a bed with her father and brother, that perhaps she was also being sexually abused. Not only was there one cot but the flooding season had also left the dilapidated hut inundated with water and sediment. Despite all of the adversity in her life, she continues to pursue academics and the support of the program “Room to Read,” which encourages young girls in difficult situations to use literature as an escape. The smile never left her face, regardless of her situation, representing true courage. One particular thing is quite unsettling, however. This young girl did not once think to question her situation or wonder if all girls in the world commute over four hours a day to school. To her, this is normal. The abuse she faces when not accomplishing her tasks is commonplace. It is not until writers like Kristof and WuDunn shed light on these issues that the victims begin to question their situations.

Psychologists, although not highlighted in this documentary, could be useful personnel to employ in these countries. Once these oppressed women realize that the acts carried out against them are not normal but actually detrimental to their well being, they will need someone to help them cope with their trauma. Therapists help clients accept what has happened to them and understand how to change the current situation. In conjunction with the great programs that have already been started like Room to Read and New Light, psychologists could help these young girls better transition into their new lives. Even if they are unable to be completely removed from the situation, like the young girl from Vietnam who is too young to live on her own, at least a psychologist provides another helping hand to facilitate smooth life transitions.


One thought on “Travel Log 11: “Holding up Half the Sky” By: Erin Foley, Paris, France

  1. I liked that Erin focuses on the importance of feeling hopeful rather than hopeless. All the issues presented in half the sky are ones that through the proper effort can be changed for the better! Great point to make, it is important to look for the positive in order to encourage hope and change!


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