Travel Log 11: “Holding up Half the Sky” by Casey Keohan. Gold Coast, Australia

Watching the documentary Half the Sky was certainly an eye opening experience for me. I cannot say I was totally surprised by the content—it is not big news that women are oppressed and abused throughout the world. We are still fighting for equality in developed countries, so obviously things are bound to be much worse in developing countries. However, I think putting faces and names to the stories of these women made these situations all the more real. Thus, I do not believe the message portrayed in the documentary can fully be explained without having someone watch the video. Overall, the documentary follows six famous women to six developing countries to investigate the injustices faced by women in each area. These ranged from female circumcision and genital mutilation to domestic abuse and sex slavery.

The one thing that seemed to carry between the countries was the lack of education, or extreme difficulty that must be overcome in order to receive an education. I remember watching a similar documentary in high school called Girl Rising, which also followed six girls in their quest to escape slavery and gain an education. The one message that always stands out to me is the idea that one of the greatest ways to increase a developing country’s gross domestic product is to educate the women. In doing so, child mortality is decreased and women tend to get married later and have fewer children. These smaller families are easier to support in a country with limited resources, and the provided education gives the women greater opportunity to provide for their families. Education also empowers the women, helping them to realize they can have control of their bodies and their lives.

In Half the Sky, The one family in Vietnam in which the father was very supportive of his daughter’s education especially touched me. The father even sacrificed multiple days’ pay each time the school had parent-teacher conferences so that he could keep track of his daughter’s progress. Instead of fearing smart girls, like many other men and fathers of his country, he was conscious of his children’s’ futures. He understood that while the family is currently in poverty, they have the opportunity to escape poverty with education. This story stood out to me because it seemed to be one of the only situations in which the male was supportive of female education and independence. It provided an important glimmer of hope in a series of sad stories. It can be tough to even know where to start when the issues are so large and far away. Yet change is already happening, and there are still things that can be done to accelerate this change (most importantly, education and empowerment).

As a health science major, I was particularly interested in the section on maternal health. In many of the counties featured in Half the Sky, infant and maternal mortality rates are very high. This is especially true in areas that participate in female circumcision, as the resultant mutilated genitals make childbirth very difficult, painful, and dangerous. In addition, few women are provided with proper medical care before, during and after childbirth. As a result, any type of complicated birth that would be a slight hiccup in the developed world can be deadly for both mother and child in the developing world. Healthcare in general is often very difficult to attain in these places, and even more difficult for women whose culture views them as inferior to men. When I decided to pursue a career as a Physician Assistant, my life plan was influenced by a story of a Boston doctor who spends six months a year practicing in the states, and the other six providing heath care and education to developing countries. While I would love to live my life like that, it is a rather ambitious goal. However, I do hope to contribute a significant portion of my time each year to providing medical education and services wherever they are most needed in the world. It is unacceptable that there are still so many people in the world who die from curable illnesses, and I have made it my greatest goal in life to work towards a healthier tomorrow. My impact as one singular person may be small, but it’s a start and that counts for something.It is important to realize that all action toward injustice must start small, with one or two people, before it can truly become anything.

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