The documentary “Half the Sky” chronicles the efforts of a reporter, Nick Kristof, who travels the world attempting to shed light on the various forms of oppression experiences by women and girls around the globe. In each segment, he brings along a celebrity guest to tackle a different issue in a different country. The stories are heart-wrenching, but also ones of hope. In each situation they found a particular native women who had dedicated her life’s work to making a magnificent difference in the lives of the young women around them.
One story that particularly struck me was that of a young woman in Cambodia, who renamed herself Semana, meaning ‘forgiveness,’ after escaping a brutal stint in sex slavery. She, like many other women, was sold into the trafficking business at a very young age. Her experience, was especially inhumane: she was forced to take upwards of 10, 20, or even 30 clients a day. She was beaten when she argued or refused. The clients wouldn’t use condoms, and so she became pregnant. They violently aborted the baby, and Semana remembers excessive blood, and tremendous pain. The brothel owner stabbed her in the eye with a knife, and even bleeding made her continue to take clients. It wasn’t until a police raid that authorities found her and brought her to the hospital, where her eye had to be removed. After all of this, her parents didn’t want her anymore, and wouldn’t accept her back into the home.
Luckily for Semana, a woman named Somaly Mam exists. She is a native Cambodian who experienced her own share of brutality, and now dedicates her life to rescuing girls from the sex trade, and caring for them after. She is responsible for the flourishing of many young women in the centers she has established. Semana is thriving under Somaly’s care. There was a scene in the documentary where she even was leading a session, educating a room full of men older than herself, about respecting women, resisting the brothels, and the importance of using protection. She presents herself as educated, fierce, and brave. She is clearly an inspiration to many, and a comfort to the many young women who continue to come to Somaly’s shelter.
As a biology major and future health-care professional, I was particularly struck by the massive health concerns for the young women in abusive conditions around the globe. In Siera-Leone, Nick explored the aggressive rape culture that still persists following a war that ended in the region in 2002. Amie Kandeh is the local hero of this story, working to provide medical services and counseling to child-victims of rape, as well as seeking that rarely attainable justice for individual perpetrators. Of all the survivors her clinic sees, 80% are rape victims under the age of 17, and a shocking 26% are under the age of 12. Physical and emotional damages resulting from abuse of any kind are the furthest thing from health. More striking to me, however, was the shocking amount of victims the center saw that presented with STDs as a result of their abuse: 90%. This presents a massive problem for young women, who not only were severely abused, but also have diseases that may follow them for the rest of their lives. While it is my belief that the first and foremost efforts should be to eliminate rape culture around the globe, medical treatment should be made more readily available to victims who in many cases live in extremely impoverished areas.