Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity For Women Worldwide, a book written by Nicholas D. Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn, is an incredibly powerful, incredibly insightful work that not only sheds light on many different women’s rights issues around the world, but also makes things personal by telling individual stories from women around the world who are facing these issues. I was captivated by each story and learning about these issues, some of which I already had some knowledge of, made me feel compelled to share this knowledge with the people around me.
To me, the overall message of this book is that women are the key to making true change in the world and if the oppression of women continues, then the world, especially the poorest countries, will not be able to thrive. Through the information given and the stories that are told in the book, we see the impact that providing women with better health care and education has, as well as putting in the effort to increase their social status and eliminate harmful cultural practices such as genital cutting. The book also tells us that getting involved isn’t difficult, time-consuming or costly, unless you would like to invest the money and time, and even provides various resources for ways to get involved. As a woman, I felt even more connected to the stories presented in this book and the issues that these women are facing. One issue in particular that I connected to was the issue of women’s education and the story of Dai Manju, a young girl in China.
Dai Manju’s parents were barely literate, as they had dropped out of elementary school. To them, Dai Manju’s school fees seemed to be a waste of money and so they told her to drop out of school. Dai Manju was the top student in her grade, and desperately wanted to keep going to school. She would hang around her school, hoping to learn something even though she could not go inside. Her teachers tried to help support her, but it wasn’t enough. Then after Kristoff and WuDunn wrote an article about Dai Manju, a reader wired them $10,000 to pay her tuition. The man’s bank made a mistake, as the donation was actually only $100, but they were kind enough to donate the difference. Because of these generous offers, Dai Manju was provided with tution-free schooling as long as she passed her exams, and the school was given much-needed renovations in addition to a scholarship program being set up for local girls. Dai Manju passed through all levels of school, including the equivalent of accounting school. She ended up becoming an executive at a Taiwanese electronic company, but wanted to start a company of her own and her boss supported her. Dai Manju has been able to send money home to her family, and they have upgraded from living in a small shack to a six-room concrete house and they added electricity, a stove, a television, and a fan.
Dai Manju’s story is one of the many in this book that demonstrates the power of educating girls. Reading this story, and the countless others about girls struggling to get an education, made me extremely upset. I have been privileged to receive a wonderful education throughout my life; I attended New York City public schools from elementary school until high school, and got the opportunity to receive education in programs for the academically gifted at my public middle school, The Scholar’s Academy and my public high school, Townsend Harris High School. Today, I am attending a wonderful private university, and am paving my way for a bright future. I am very grateful for all of the educational opportunities I have received throughout my life, and I am grateful that my parents, who are both teachers, encourage me to grow and learn every day. It deeply saddens me that many young girls around the world do not get the same educational opportunities or support from their families. To me, education is a right, but in some of the countries mentioned in this book people see education, especially the education of girls, as a luxury or something that should not be allowed. I believe that knowledge is power, and all girls should have the opportunity to become empowered. It has also been shown that educating women has a positive impact on society. Kristoff and WuDunn write, “One study after another has shown that educating girls is one of the most effective ways to fight poverty. Schooling is also often a precondition for girls and women to stand up against injustice, and for women to be integrated into the economy.” They also mention that education causes women to marry later in life and have fewer children. In addition, it is shown that countries such as Rwanda, that have a parliament that is made up of a majority of (educated) women, are some of the least corrupt, best governed, and fastest growing in Africa. In short, educating women is one of the most powerful tools at our disposal. Learning about this and reading stories like Dai Manju’s made me want to put in effort to help educate women around the world.
As a journalism major, I always consider the media and what they choose to cover, and it always astonishes me when certain issues, that seem very important, are not covered. After reading this book, I wonder where the features are about issues such as genital cutting, women’s education, maternal mortality, and obstetric fistulas. I am also always thinking about the inequality women still face in America because I aspire to become a sports journalist, and sports journalism is still very much seen as a man’s world. Many women who are hired to cover sports are young and good looking, and in my opinion usually offer nothing significant in the way of analysis. Even when I tell people that I want to be a sports reporter and that my favorite sport is hockey, they are often skeptical and doubt my knowledge of the sport. Some men have even told me “You only like hockey because the players are good looking.” It’s times like these that remind me that I have an uphill battle in my chosen field of work and that I will spend a lot of time trying to prove myself when I should not have to do so.
This leads into the other connections I made to this book having to do with the women’s rights issues that we still face in America today. I am not normally a very outspoken person when it comes to politics, although I am very opinionated, because I know many people have many different values, but when it comes to women’s rights I will always say something. In high school, I did a project about the United States’ family leave policies, particularly maternity leave. The U.S. is the lowest ranking amongst developed nations when it comes to maternity leave. We are also still in heated debates within our government about funding planned parenthood and what rights women should have to their bodies. In addition, according to Half the Sky, 17% of our House of Representatives were women in 2008. I’m not sure how much that number has grown in 9 years, but I’m sure it hasn’t grown much. To me, these things are all outrageous and wrong. How can we, a developed, democratic, civilized nation, still be so far behind when it comes to women’s rights? If we are going to try to help other countries take steps forward to help women, then we need to set an example and take some steps forward as well. I also think that journalists need to shed more light on these issues to make them better known to the public, and people like Kristoff and WuDunn are helping pave the way for that to happen. Many of the women in this book are women they have written features of in the past and to me personal stories are the best way to inspire people to act because they evoke emotion in people and create feelings of sympathy and empathy. If people can put a face to an issue, they will feel more connected to it and have more of a desire to do something to help. I think that it’s important for people my age in my field to become more educated on these issues because then as they enter the field they may be more inspired to put a spotlight on them to spread knowledge to the public. This is because while older people in the field may be set in their ways, younger people can come in and try to make a change for the future. I hope that there will be more people like me, especially my fellow women, out there who learn about these issues and feel as passionately as I do and want to get the word out there so we can begin to help more and more girls all around the world and begin to bridge the gap between men and women. Women are vital to making a better world and without proper health care, education, and general respect, then that better world will not be possible.
Kristof, Nicholas D., and Sheryl WuDunn. Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014. Print.