Travel Log 11: “Holding up Half the Sky” by Janine Jay. London, England

Half the Sky focused on the imbalance of privilege and human rights between men and women across the globe. Although in first world countries, women have fought for their rights and now are being seen as equal to their male counter parts, there is still a long way to come for women across the globe to be considered the same status. When the basic questions of ‘Does your husband beat you?’ or ‘Do you receive an education?’ can be answered with the shockingly less-obvious answer without so much as a blink of an eye, it makes you wonder why this isn’t a bigger deal. Here in this documentary, celebrities were going on these journeys and meeting these people- but I had never seen any of this in our news. What happened after this documentary was made? Where were these people now? Why wasn’t anyone talking about this?

I was shocked to watch it. Why did I live the life I did when across the world I might not even have a say in what I did with my life? I’ve never had to be very concerned about my own safety or access to an education but this was a reality that people had to face every single day. Half the Sky revealed the tragic realities that these women woke up each morning and thought about each night before bed. They had no faults except for the place and time they were born. The message of the film was clear- it brought awareness to the rights that we take for granted that are only a dream to millions around the globe- namely, basic human rights for women. It is our responsibility to act on behalf of these women to make the world a place of equality.

One girls story struck a chord with me; Duyen My Thi Le from Vietnam was born to a family of eucalyptus farmers where she spends her days watching the other children. She was selected to be a part of the program Room to Read that brings education to girls from select poor families. They provide books, tutors, and a location to study, all to help being literacy and options to these girls. Duyen has to bike 17 miles every day to school through areas that I without a doubt wouldn’t have been allowed to go as a kid. But, she makes the journey every day because she knows this might be her only opportunity to get out from below the poverty line. They interviewed her family and asked if they approve of their daughter going to school. Her parents responded that they appreciated it, but it was apparent to the viewer that they still thought it was a bit strange for them. I have no doubt in my mind that they believed their daughters place was to be pretty and attract a rich husband so that she could take care of them. In their mind a smart girl would probably find it more difficult to find a husband- she would get ideas of her own. They asked Duyen if her parents would treat her differently as a boy. She responded, “They often did wish I was a son so that I could help them”. They followed by saying that they are proud of her and all that she is learning but this speaks an undeniable truth about the expectancies and privilege being a boy gains across the world.

To me, Duyen seemed conflicted; she was happy for the education that she was receiving and the opportunities it would give her that would only be a distant dream in the past but she was also sad about the differences in expectations that she was showing her parents. This was not the life they imagined for her and I doubt they would fully understand what something like this would mean for their family. It’s simply unfathomable to them even though it could break them out of poverty. But Duyen still pushes herself to bike those 17 miles to and from school so that she can get this education that her parents aren’t terribly keen on because she knows the difference it could make. I don’t know if I have ever heard of an act more brave that what she is doing.

When I think back to my own area of study, it is hard to picture teaching code to someone who has most likely never seen a computer. I mean after all the industry itself is only a few decades old. But there is no doubt that it would make a significant difference in someone in the third world’s life. I mean think of the possibilities you could have if you were one of the first programmers in your country. Learning to program was fairly simple and with the right tools and teachers I have no doubt that a literate girl in these programs would be able to build something to sell. The internet itself opens up many new possibilities- for instance it might be hard to create a popular website in a country where most people don’t have access to the internet, but being one of the few would open up the world as far as information and trade goes. You could set up a website that sells to someone across the globe willing to pay for a product and shipping which would open up for money to pour into the country. STEM is such a helpful and versatile field that a few volunteer tutors could make a huge difference in one of these girls’ lives. One day, I hope that one of those volunteers is me.


One thought on “Travel Log 11: “Holding up Half the Sky” by Janine Jay. London, England

  1. Hi Janine,

    I was too struck by Duyen’s story. The woman asked her what she was afraid of and her only response was ghosts. She bikes 17 miles to school by herself and the first thing she said she was afraid of was ghosts. Men in many countries around the world treat women as disposable objects. Therefore, many scary things are likely to happen to her on her journey yet she continues to make it everyday. That’s amazing. I was also struck how an educated woman is less likely to find a husband. It also surprised me how young the woman usually get married. I visited Bali last weekend and our driver was telling us that 20s is too young to get married there. People in Bali usually get married later he said from 30 to 50. I found this surprising as despite it being a third world country, Bali still did not seem to have the same issues as other third world countries. However, people were much more likely to approach a man than a woman. There were constantly people trying to sell us things; however, they would approach the man of the group first and would be more persistent with him than with the women. I found it very upsetting how an accident of birth gave me so many more opportunities than those women depicted in the documentary.

    Best Wishes,


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